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THE SOCIETY 
FOR 

PSYCHICAL RESEARCH 

AN OUTLINE OF ITS HISTORY 
BY 

W. H. SALTER 


LONDON : 31 TAVISTOCK SQUARE, VV.C. 


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THE SOCIETY 
FOR 

PSYCHICAL RESEARCH 

AN OUTLINE OF ITS HISTORY 


W. H. SALTER 
(President, 1947-8) 


1948 

LONDON: 31 TAVISTOCK SQUARE, W.C.i 








PRINTED IN C.RF.AT RRITAIN BY ROBERT MACLEH03® AND CO. LTD. 
THE UNIVERSITY PRESS. GLASGOW 


CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Introduction 4 

Fart I. 

Events Leading to the Foundation 
or the Society s; 

Part II. 

The Early Years (1882-1901) 13 

Part III. 

The Work of the Society from 1901-1919 27 

Part IV. 

The Work of the Society from 1920 

TO THE PRESENT DAY 39 






INTRODUCTION 

This outline of the history of the Society is issued with the approval of the 
Council in the hope that it will assist recently elected members in viewing 
current research and discussion in the light of the work done during the 
sixty-five years that have now passed since it began its activities. It has 
only been possible in this sketch to mention a few outstanding events and 
achievements, and to refer to a few of the many admirable papers to be 
found in the forty-seven volumes of S.P.R. Proceedings so far published. 

The author gratefully acknowledges many helpful suggestions from 
other members of the Society, but he is solely responsible for the selection 
of the material referred to in this sketch and for any comments on it, and, 
of course, for any opinions expressed. He hopes that his readers will be 
encouraged to read widely in S.P.R. literature, which in its own subject is 
without a rival. They can thus fill in for themselves the numerous gaps he 
has been compelled to leave, and correct any errors into which he may 
inadvertently have fallen. 

While the sketch is written by a member of the Society primarily for 
his fellow members, he hopes that any non-members into whose hands it 
falls may be sufficiently interested in the work the S.P.R. has already done 
to wish to share in the most effective way in the work that still remains 
to be done, namely by becoming members. With this in view he calls 
attention to the Note on p. 54. 


4 


PART I 

EVENTS LEADING TO THE FOUNDATION OF THE 
SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH 

The Beginnings 

During all human history there has been a belief, not confined to any one 
country or creed or level of culture, that mankind, or at least some men and 
women, had other means of perception and of acquiring knowledge than 
the five senses, and were able to get in touch with modes of existence 
unfamiliar to everyday experience. The universal prevalence of stories 
of ghosts and haunted houses, of second sight and dreams that come true 
is evidence of this belief. 

Nor from early times have there been lacking attempts to put this belief 
to the test. The story of how King Croesus tested the Delphic oracle has 
been too often told to need re-telling. During the classical period there 
were numerous instances of ghost stories, predictions, supposed messages 
from the dead, and the like, but little systematic enquiry. Even this little 
seems to have withered in the forbidding theological atmosphere of 
succeeding ages, and it was not until about the middle of the nineteenth 
century that conditions favourable to such an enquiry developed. Among 
these may be mentioned, first, the greater freedom of discussion of matters 
formerly supposed to be within the province of theology ; next, the 
establishment of “ mesmerism ” ona scientific basis, mainly by Elliotson, 
Braid and Esdaile, with the increasing evidence for an extension of normal 
faculties in patients in the mesmeric (hypnotic) state : and, thirdly, the 
remarkable growth, first in America and later in Europe, of a Spiritualist 
movement, whose first origins are to be sought in the raps occurring in the 
Fox household, Hydesville, Arcadia, New York, in 1848. 

[.Literature . For the Classical Period see Myers’s essay on The Greek 
Oracles , in Essays , Classical , London, 1883, G. W. Lambert On the 
Psychology of Plotinus , S.P.R. Proc. xxxvi and Prof. Dodds Telepathy 
and Clairvoyance in Classical Antiquity , in Greek Poetry and Life , Oxford, 
1936; for the Renaissance, the chapter on Witchcraft in Phantasms of 
the Living ; for the nineteenth century, Podmore’s Modern Spiritualism .] 

The Cambridge “ Ghost Society ” 

Among the numerous persons and groups who in the middle of the 
nineteenth century were making enquiries into psychical occurrences 
may be mentioned a society from which our own can claim direct descent. 
In the Life of Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, by his 






son, A. C. Benson, will be found, under the year 1851-2, the following 
paragraph : 

“ Among my father’s diversions at Cambridge was the foundation of a 
4 Ghost Society ’, the forerunner of the Psychical Society [meaning the 
S.P.R.] for the investigation of the supernatural. Lightfoot, Westcott 
and Hort were among the members. He was then, as always, more 
interested in psychical phenomena than he cared to admit.” (p. 98). 

Lightfoot and Westcott both became bishops, and Plort Professor 
of Divinity. The S.P.R. has hardly lived up to the standard of ecclesias¬ 
tical eminence set by the parent society. 

Henry Sidgwick 

University societies are seldom long-lived, but the “ Ghost Society ” 
lived long enough to enrol amongst its members Henry Sidgwick, who 
was closely related to Benson both by blood and marriage. He joined the 
“ Ghost Society ” before he took his degree in 1859 ; Westcott was then 
the secretary, and on his leaving Cambridge Sidgwick appears to have 
succeeded him. As his Memoir records (p. 43): 

This investigation of ghost stories was the beginning so far as Sidg¬ 
wick was concerned of psychical research in which ... he was engaged, 
except for brief intervals, during the rest of his life. The whole subject 
connected itself with his philosophical and theological studies : as he 
says . . . comparative thaumatology 1 required its investigation and 
further the possibility of direct proof of continued individual existence 
after death could not be neglected either from a theological or an ethical 
point of view. 

Myers and Gurney 

In i860 began that friendship between Sidgwick and Frederic Myers 
which was to lead to the foundation of the S.P.R. and to last until the 
death of Sidgwick, only a few months before Myers himself died. Their 
close association was due to a curious conjunction of circumstances. 
Sidgwick, after a brilliant classical career, was turning to philosophy : 
but for two years (1859-61), to fill up time, he took private pupils in 
classics. In the second of these two years Myers at the age of seventeen 
went up to Trinity to read classics, and became a private pupil of Sidg¬ 
wick’s. Had Myers not gone up at least a year under the usual age, he 
would not have been Sidgwick’s pupil, and possibly might never have 
become his intimate friend. In that event there would have been no S.P.R. 

As it was, the association was very close, first of all in educational 
affairs, for Myers was a warm supporter of Sidgwick’s efforts for the higher 
education of women. In his Obituary of Sidgwick ( Proc . xv) Myers 
describes how, having passed without spiritual satisfaction through many 
stages of thought, 

1 i.e. the 3 tudy of miracles. 

6 


“ I felt drawn in my perplexities to Henry Sidgwick as somehow my 
only hope. In a star-light walk which I shall not forget (December 3rd, 
1869), I asked him, almost with trembling, whether he thought that 
when Tradition, Intuition, Metaphysic had failed to solve the riddle of 
the Universe, there was still a chance that from any actual observable 
phenomena—ghosts, spirits, whatsoever there might be—some valid 
knowledge might be drawn as to a World Unseen. Already, it seemed, 
he had thought that this was possible; steadily, though in no sanguine 
fashion, he indicated some last grounds of hope : and from that night 
onwards I resolved to pursue this quest, if it might be, at his side.” 

In 1872 Sidgwick wrote to Myers : 

I sometimes feel with somewhat of a profound hope and enthusiasm that 
the function of the English mind, with its uncompromising matter-of- 
factness, will be to put the final question to the Universe with a solid 
passionate determination to be answered, which must come to some¬ 
thing. 

The next step was what is described in Sidgwick’s Memoir asa“ sort of 
infonnal association ” of Myers and himself for the investigation of 
spiritualism, with a common fund. Edmund Gurney, who had been 
Myers’s junior at Trinity by a few years, was sympathetic, but did not 
definitely join the other two till a little later. 

Sidgwick, Myers and Gurney had all distinguished themselves at Cam¬ 
bridge as classical scholars. The transition from classics to philosophy 
was easy, and each in his own way had made it, though Sidgwick was the 
only one who could claim to have made philosophy his main study. He 
became Knightbridge Professor in 1883. Myers, though he called himself 
“ an amateur savant ”, had an amazing gift of mastering all branches of 
thought or knowledge that touched on psychical research. Gurney 
turned to good use both his aptitude for psychological experiment, 
especially in hypnotism, and the leisure which was his in greater degree 
than the other two enjoyed. To assist him in his experimental work he 
took a medical course at Cambridge, and in a London hospital. 

Other Early Workers 

The group was strengthened by its close connection with other Cam¬ 
bridge friends who had had a more definite scientific training. Among these 
may be mentioned Lord Rayleigh, Miss E. M. Balfour (Mrs Henry Sidg¬ 
wick) who collaborated with Lord Rayleigh in some of his experiments at 
the Cavendish Laboratory, and Dr Arthur Myers, Frederic Myers’s 
younger brother. 

To attribute to this group the main share in laying the foundations of 
psychical research is not to underrate the contributions of men like 
Crookes, Barrett, Stainton Moses and A. R. Wallace, or of the Oxford 
Phasmatological Society, of whose activities Sir Charles Oman, one of its 
leading members, recently contributed an account to our Journal (xxxiii, 
208). But the group of which Henry Sidgwick was the leader covered a 

7 








wider field for a longer time than any other person or group, and was the 
nucleus round which any future Society was bound to form itself. 

Lines of Research 

(a) Spontaneous Phenomena . 

The investigators who combined in 1882 to form the S.P.R. had for 
some time previously been pursuing various lines of enquiry. First men¬ 
tion should be made of “ spontaneous cases ” of haunts, apparitions and 
the like, which, as they have been among the earliest psychic phenomena 
to attract the wondering attention of mankind, were also among the first 
to receive systematic investigation when the foundations of psychical 
research came to be laid. The Cambridge il Ghost Society had collected 
them by circular. They seem to have been the main preoccupation of the 
Oxford Society. As the subject matter of Phantasms of the Living and the 
Census of Hallucinations (see pp. 16-19 post), they provided one of the 
main tasks of the S.P.R. in its early years. It would hardly have been 
possible for the new Society to undertake an enquiry of such a kind or 
on such a scale if several of its leading members had not already gained 
previous experience of the difficulties attaching to that type of investiga¬ 
tion. 

(b) Hypnotism . 

By the eighteen-seventies Braid, Esdaile and Elliotson, who had placed 
England in the forefront of research into mesmerism, or hypnotism, as it 
will from now on be more convenient to call it, were all dead, and the 
lead had passed to the various French schools of medical psychology, 
with whom, however, our own founders were in close touch. Hypnotism 
is important in the development of psychical research in two ways : first 
as a technique for examining the structure of human personality, and 
secondly because patients in the hypnotic state appear to have extended 
faculties of perception or cognition. 

As to the first point, the founders of the S.P.R. never forgot that the 
exploration of human personality in its entirety was the goal of all enquiry 
into the manifold and apparently unrelated phenomena that they intended 
to investigate. This is a point on which William James lays great em¬ 
phasis in his tribute to Myers’s memory ( Proc . xvii, pp. 16, 17): 

Through him for the first time psychologists are in possession of 
their full material and mental phenomena are set down in an adequate 
inventory. ... For half a century now, psychologists have fully 
admitted the existence of a subliminal mental region...but they have 
never definitely taken up the question of the extent of this region, never 
sought explicitly to map it out. Myers definitely attacks this problem, 
which, after him, it will be impossible to ignore. 

(c) Experimental Telepathy . 

The extended faculties of subjects under hypnosis were forced on the 
reluctant attention of official science through the enterprise of William 

8 


Barrett, Professor of Physics at the Royal College of Science, Dublin. 
From about 1863 onwards he had been conducting experiments, first in 
Ireland and later in London, on which in 1876 he submitted a paper to 
the British Association. There being at that date no Psychological Section 
for him to approach, his paper went first before the Biology Section, 
which rejected it. But by the casting vote of Alfred Russel Wallace (see 
p. 10) it was accepted for reading by the anthropological sub-section. 
Barrett concluded his paper by an appeal to the Association to form a 
committee of investigation, but this met with no response. The Associa¬ 
tion refused to publish the paper, which none the less, as read, created a 
considerable sensation. It should be regarded as one of the decisive 
factors leading to the formation of the S.P.R. Justice was at length done 
to Barrett’s initiative when the paper, in an amended form, was published 
in the first volume of S.P.R. Proceedings. 

(d) Physical Phenomena . 

For the thirty years preceding the foundation of the S.P.R. more atten¬ 
tion was, perhaps, paid by investigators to what were called “ the physical 
phenomena of spiritualism ” than to any other branch of psychical 
research. The fans et origo was the poltergeist case, not in itself very 
remarkable, occurring in the Fox family, of which mention has already 
been made. This let loose a flood of mediumistic phenomena, both 
“ physical ” and “ mental ”, which spread from America to Europe. It 
was with one of the Fox sisters, then Mrs Jencken, that Mrs Sidgwick 
records having had, in 1874, ^ er “ first seance of any importance ”. 
Mrs Sidgwick’s later investigations of mental phenomena were of such 
outstanding importance, that there is a danger of forgetting that for several 
years before the foundation of the S.P.R. she, Henry Sidgwick, Gurney 
and Myers had all been extremely active in the investigation of physical 
mediums, persisting in the face of every discouragement resulting from 
definite fraud, or results which were at the best dubious and incon¬ 
clusive. 

The Report of the London Dialectical Society 

Among the collective ventures in psychical research of this period, special 
mention should be made of the Committee appointed in 1869 by the Lon¬ 
don Dialectical Society, a body, to quote from its Annual Report for 1876, 
existing “ for the very purpose of affording a hearing to subjects which are 
ostracised elsewhere ”, especially subjects of a “ metaphysical, religious, 
social or political character ”. The Committee heard statements from 
several mediums, including D. D. Home, and from several investigators, 
most of whom were already convinced of the reality of the phenomena 
under investigation. The Committee, which consisted of over thirty 
members, found it convenient to divide itself for the purpose of conduc¬ 
ting experiments into six sub-committees, whose efforts met with varying 
degrees of success. 

One of the sub-committees initiated an interesting experiment: it 

9 











sought to “ educe ” supernormal faculties amongst its own members. 
This, though not successful at the time, was a move in the right direction. 
The realisation by the general public that, if they wished for experience of 
psychic phenomena, they did not have to resort to a small group of persons 
called “ mediums ”, not all of the highest reputation, but could produce 
them for themselves in “ thought-transference ” experiments, and by 
table-tilting or automatic writing, has played a large part in the develop¬ 
ment of psychical research, both before and since the foundation of the 
S. p . R . 

Of the main Committee of the Dialectical Society the personnel was 
not very impressive, almost the only member whose name now counts for 
anything being A. R. Wallace, who shares with Charles Darwin the credit 
of propounding the Natural Selection theory of evolution. Wallace con¬ 
tributed to the Committee’s report a very lively paper protesting against 
attempts to exclude from serious enquiry occurrences reported by intelli¬ 
gent and disinterested observers, merely because they happened, in the 
light of current knowledge, to appear incredible. Wallace’s name appears 
on the first printed list of S.P.R. members and associates, so that he is an 
honoured link between the Dialectical Society and ourselves. 

A few eminent sceptics who were invited to serve on the Committee 
either, like Huxley and George Henry Lewes, refused or, like Bradlaugh, 
withdrew after a brief experience. The report of the Committee was made 
about eighteen months after its appointment. Though cautiously worded, 
it leant in favour of the genuineness of the phenomena. It was a majority 
report, from which the Chairman, Dr Edwards, and a few others vigorously 
dissented, protesting that the Committee had been biassed in its procedure 
and was biassed in its findings. So far, however, as the sceptical side did 
not receive adequate attention, it was largely the fault of the sceptics, on 
and off the Committee, for not taking more trouble to see that their case 
was properly put. 

The Committee in its report declared the phenomena of spiritualism to 
be worthy of more serious attention and careful investigation than they 
had until then received, but having so reported it seems to have considered 
its own work done and to have made no attempt to organise the “ careful 
investigation ” which it recommended. 

Crookes 

William Crookes, one of the most distinguished chemists and physicists 
of his generation, announced in the Quarterly Journal of Science during 
1870 that he had for some time past been investigating spiritualistic 
phenomena, and, as this announcement was made while the Dialectical 
Society’s Committee was sitting, it is rather odd that neither was he asked 
to serve on it, nor did he give evidence before it. Crookes’s investigations 
of D. D. Home and Florence Cook are important and highly controversial 
incidents in psychical research. He had other work on hand of a more 
pressing kind, so that it is not surprising that after a short time he found 
it necessary to discontinue active work in a subject in which he retained 

10 


all his life an undiminished interest. He was President of the S.P.R., 
1896-1899. 

Stainton Moses 

The early seventies, which saw the decline of Home’s mediumship, saw 
also the rise of W. Stainton Moses, or, to give him his pen-name, “ M. A. 
Oxon.” Moses was introduced to spiritualism by a Mr Speer in whose 
family he was a tutor. He began producing physical phenomena in 1872, 
and automatic writing in 1873. In 1874 he became personally known to 
Myers and Gurney. The early experiences of Myers and his friends with 
professional mediums had been unfortunate : even where proof of fraud 
was absent, the whole atmosphere, generated by these mediums and their 
supporters alike, was shoddy and second-rate. To meet a medium who 
was, in the old phrase, “ a scholar and a gentleman,” free from the slightest 
taint of financial motive, and by general testimony most conscientious in 
everyday life, was an experience as novel as welcome. Probably Myers 
allowed too much influence to such considerations in accepting as genuine 
physical phenomena produced under most unsatisfactory conditions, and 
communications few of which have any evidential value. 

Foundation of the S.P.R. 

Mention has now been made of the main persons and groups actively 
engaged in psychical research during the seventies. There were many 
obvious practical reasons why they should combine with a view to greater 
efficiency in research : it is only necessary to mention finance, for re¬ 
search, and the publication of the results of research, are alike expensive. 
The initiative was taken by Barrett who convened a conference held on the 
5th and 6th January 1882. A committee of sixteen was then appointed 
which recommended the formation of a Society, and at an adjourned 
meeting of the Conference on the 20th February 1882 the S.P.R. was duly 
constituted. 

It was the union of several groups and persons who differed widely in 
experience of psychical research, in opinion, in method, in evidential 
standards, and in ability to consider psychical problems objectively. If 
the new Society was to enjoy a greater prestige with the educated public 
than, for example, the Committee of the Dialectical Society, it was neces¬ 
sary to find a President of recognised position in the world of learning and 
of acknowledged sobriety of judgment. Henry Sidgwick was preemin¬ 
ently qualified in these respects, and he had the further advantage of a 
longer and wider experience of psychical research than the rest of the 
Committee, some members of which made his acceptance of the Presidency 
a condition of their adhesion to the Society. Sidgwick was invited 
and accepted and thus became the first President of the S.P.R. 
To this office he was re-elected seven times in the succeeding ten years. 
Myers, Gurney, Barrett and Stainton Moses were members of the first 
Council, as was also Frank Podmore, who had been a member of the 
Oxford Phasmatological Society. 


11 













The list of Members and Associates printed at the end of Vol. I of 
Proceedings contains many other interesting names, including those of 
Arthur Balfour, G. W. Balfour, William Bateson, the rediscoverer of 
Mendelism, the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, 
Leslie Stephen and John Ruskin. 

[Literature. Besides books already mentioned, the papers on Henry 
Sidgwick by Prof. Broad and Lord Rayleigh in Proc. xlv : obituary 
notices of Gurney, Sidgwick and Myers in Proc . v, xv and xvi.] 


PART II 

THE EARLY YEARS OF THE S.P.R. (1882-1901) 


Objects and Organisation 

The first fifty years of the Society’s work were described on the occasion 
of its Jubilee with such illuminative detail by Mrs Sidgwick, herself a 
mainstay of the Society during nearly the whole of that period, as to justify 
a later annalist in omitting all reference to some matters mentioned by her 
(see Proc. xli). Writing for a different generation of members I have ven¬ 
tured to depart in some instances from the order adopted by her, and to 
add some comments of my own. But for a full understanding of S.P.R. 
work until 1932 Mrs Sidgwick’s article is indispensable. 

It is perhaps an example of that “ uncompromising matter-of-factness ” 
which Sidgwick thought distinctive of the English mind that the Objects of 
the Society , as set out in Vol. I of our Proceedings attempt no more formal 
definition of the subject matter of psychical research than a description of 
it as “ that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms 
as mesmeric, psychical and spiritualistic.” Fuller explanation is to be 
found in the list of subjects entrusted to special committees : 

(1) An examination of the nature and extent of any influence which 
may be exerted by one mind upon another, apart from any generally 
recognised mode of perception. 

(2) The study of hypnotism, and the forms of so-called mesmeric 
trance, with its alleged insensibility to pain ; clairvoyance, and other 
allied phenomena. 

(3) A critical revision of Reichenbach’s researches with certain 
organisations called “ sensitive ”, and an enquiry whether such organisa¬ 
tions possess any power of perception beyond a highly exalted sensi¬ 
bility of the recognised sensory organs. 

(4) A careful investigation of any reports, resting on strong testimony, 
regarding apparitions at the moment of death, or otherwise, or regarding 
disturbances in houses reputed to be haunted. 

(5) An enquiry into the various physical phenomena commonly called 
spiritualistic ; with an attempt to discover their causes and general laws. 

(6) The collection and collation of existing materials bearing on the 
history of these subjects. 

The aim of the Society will be to approach these various problems 
without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit 
of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled science to solve 
so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated. 

A3 13 








And on the following page occurs this paragraph : 

NOTE. To prevent misconception, it is here expressly stated that 
Membership of this Society does not imply the acceptance of any 
particular explanation of the phenomena investigated, nor any belief as 
to the operation, in the physical world, of forces other than those recog¬ 
nised by Physical Science. 

The grouping of the subjects of enquiry may strike a modern reader 
as odd, and he may be glad to have it explained that Baron von Reichen- 
bach was a distinguished chemist and metallurgist, who claimed to 
have discovered that some persons could see lights near the poles of 
magnets. 

It is worthy of note that the Society’s manifesto nowhere suggests any 
intention to institute an enquiry into the problem of survival, since the 
word “ spiritualistic ” is simply used to indicate a type of phenomenon 
already generally known by that name. The popular notion that 
psychical research is merely a refined and more intellectualised form 
of spiritualism derives no support from this document, nor from the 
early work of the Society, little of which had any direct bearing on 
survival. 

The distribution of the research work of the new Society among com¬ 
mittees was probably necessary at the time for two reasons : (i) it helped 
to keep together the heterogeneous elements out of which the S.P.R. was 
composed ; (2) there was a large mass of historical matter requiring colla¬ 
tion and analysis, a task which a committee can tackle better than a single 
enquirer. But as permanent organisations for experiment and research, 
standing committees are likely, in our subject, to be most unsatisfactory. 
They do not allow enough scope to the free-lance investigator who has a 
very special part to play in so unorthodox a subject as ours. Moreover the 
spontaneous phenomena can often only be investigated by some individual 
acting promptly on his own initiative. 

The objection which seems to have had the greatest weight at the time 
was the disadvantage, to which Mrs Sidgwick refers (Proc . xli), that the 
report of a committee was likely to be taken as an expression of the Society’s 
corporate opinion, a misconception to be carefully guarded against. 
After a few years, therefore, investigation by committees ceased to be the 
usual practice of the S.P.R. But particular pieces of investigation have 
sometimes been referred to special committees with good results, and 
standing administrative committees to deal with such matters as publica¬ 
tion have been an essential part of S.P.R. machinery. 

The, Society rapidly increased in numbers, and attracted new workers. 
Mrs Sidgwick, as she has stated (Proc. xli, p. 1), did not join the Society 
till 1884, for fear, apparently, that an open connection with so unorthodox 
a venture might prejudice Newnham College, in which then recent founda¬ 
tion she held a responsible position. “ Though not technically a member, 
I was entirely cognizant of the doings of the Society and its Council from 
the beginning.” 


H 


Some New Workers 

Special mention should be made of three other active workers who 
joined the Society in its early years and left their mark on its history, 
Alice Johnson, Richard Hodgson and Oliver Lodge. 

Alice Johnson was one of the scientific members of the Cambridge 
group. After gaining distinction in biology, she became Mrs Sidgwick’s 
secretary, and in that way immersed herself in psychical research. 
Hodgson after graduating in Australia studied philosophy at Cambridge 
under Sidgwick. Lodge has left us so recently (1940) that it is unnecessary 
to dwell on his eminence as a scientist, or his work for the Society. 

Medical Psychology 

The founders of the S.P.R. were in close touch with scientists in other 
countries whose work impinged on their own. France at that time held 
the lead in medical psychology, and the Society welcomed as Correspond¬ 
ing Members most of the leading French psychotherapists. Some of these 
developed an interest in many other branches of psychical research. 
There was a particularly close association between our founders and the 
physiologist, Charles Richet, who became President of the S.P.R. in 

ms- 

How closely Myers and Gurney kept in touch with medical psychology 
abroad, particularly in France, plainly appears from any of their papers 
published in our Proceedings. They were, however, themselves working 
on independent lines. Dr T. W. Mitchell writes (Proc. xlv, 179) : 

Gurney’s experiments . . . were received with incredulity and few 
realised that he was laying the foundations on which the psychology of 
abnormal mental states during the next twenty years was to be based ...; 
the theoretical implications of his results was more particularly the task 
undertaken by Frederic Myers. . . . Myers put forward a view of the 
nature of hysteria which was far in advance of the teaching of English 
clinicians. 

This view William James described (Proc. xvii, 19) as making 

an epoch, not only in medical, but in psychological science, because 
it brings in an entirely new conception of our mental possibilities. 

The American S.P.R. 

The Americans, under the leadership of William James, were not slow 
in founding a Society of their own with similar aims and objects. After a 
few years’ separate existence, however, the British and American Societies 
agreed to unite, with headquarters in London and a branch in America 
under Hodgson’s immediate direction. Soon after Hodgson’s death in 
1905 the American branch became once more a separate Society. As such 
it still flourishes, without diminution of fruitful collaboration between 
psychical researchers on either side the Atlantic. 

r S 
















Spontaneous Cases and Experimental Telepathy 

From its early beginnings the S.P.R. carried out investigations into every 
conceivable type of phenomenon which could be described in the words 
of its inaugural manifesto as “ mesmeric, psychical or spiritualistic ”, 
whether it was mental or physical, spontaneous, mediumistic or experi¬ 
mental. As was natural with the first organised enquiry into a hitherto 
neglected subject, much time was devoted to collecting accounts of things 
that happened before the Society’s foundation, in the hope, often unrealised, 
that satisfactory testimony to them might still be obtainable. But the 
Society soon received as much contemporary material as could be handled 
even by the almost superhuman energies of its early leaders. 

The range of experiment was also extremely wide : sometimes the 
material was statistically assessable, and a good deal of energy was devoted 
to working out suitable formulae : sometimes “ free ” material, such as 
simple drawings, was used. Experiments were also made as to the possible 
transmission by supernormal process of sensations, such as taste or smell. 
The comic side of these experiments did not escape the notice of con¬ 
temporary wits, and I may perhaps diverge from seriousness so far as to 
cite some lines which playfully allude to this side of S.P.R. work. 

Dr A. T. Myers, who was familiarly known as “ the K ” to his 
Cambridge contemporaries, including J. K. Stephen, the author of the 
verses, is acting as agent. The percipient, “ the august Telepathist,” is 
the “ he ”. 

He could detect that peppermint’s existence, 

He read its nature in the book of doom ; 

Standing at some considerable distance ; 

Standing in fact in quite another room. 

Was there a faint impenetrable essence 
Wafted towards him by the sucking K? 

Did some pale ghost inform him of its presence? 

Or did it happen in some other way? 

{Lapsus Calami , Cambridge, 1891). 

Note how all too faithfully the metre and mannerisms of F. W. H. Myers’s 
best-known poem {St. Paul) are reproduced. 

Phantasms of the Living 

The most notable monument to the early activities of the S.P.R. was the 
publication in 1886 of Phantasms of the Living under the joint authorship 
of Gurney, Myers and Podmore. In the Introduction the authors state 
that they 

propose to deal with all classes of cases where there is reason to suppose 
that the mind of one human being has affected the mind of another 
without speech uttered, or word written or sign made—has affected it, 
that is to say, by other means than through the recognised channels of 
sense. 


16 


The material on which the argument of the book was based consisted in 
part of the results of experiments, and in part of spontaneous cases. Some 
of these were old cases collected by the Historical Committee (see p. 14 
above), and others were more recent cases collected by the authors 
specially for the book. These included many accounts of apparitions seen 
or voices heard at about the time of the death of the persons to whom such 
apparitions or voices apparently related, the basis, in fact, of the time- 
honoured ghost story. They were analysed by the authors with a view to 
ascertaining whether, in accordance with traditional belief, there was a 
closer connection between the apparition, or voice, and the death than 
could be reasonably attributed to chance. The authors considered such a 
connection to be established, but rejected the traditional view that the 
experience was caused by the presence of a semi-material wraith or double 
of the dead or dying man. As a few years later, (in the Census of Hallucina¬ 
tions) a much larger number of cases bearing on this point was subjected 
to a more thorough analysis, it is unnecessary here to describe more fully 
the statistical argument set out in Phantasms. 

The authors put in the forefront of their book records of numerous 
experiments conducted by themselves and others. Emphasis was unfor¬ 
tunately laid on a series of experiments in telepathy with some girls, the 
Creery sisters, who were discovered to have cheated in other experiments 
held under less strict conditions and not used by the authors to support 
their argument. When this trickery was definitely proved, the authors 
treated as cancelled the experiments on which they had relied, even though 
the conditions governing them precluded, in their view, the use of any 
kind of trickery. This action was in keeping with the very strict code 
* regulating the relations between medium and investigator which the 
Society set up for its own guidance, and endeavoured to recommend for 
general use. 

A few of the books and Parts of Proceedings mentioned in the course of 
this sketch are of such outstanding importance that they deserve to rank as 
the classics of psychical research : all these have a value which has not 
been substantially affected by lapse of time. In this select body of litera¬ 
ture Phantasms of the Living holds the first place in time, and is not far off 
the first place in importance. Admittedly the book has its defects : to 
mention a small but exasperating one, it has an incredibly bad index. The 
old cases have the faults of cases not submitted to critical examination at 
the time they occurred. The new cases were too few to bear the statistical 
weight put upon them : one of them was later shown to be a hoax. Some 
of the experimental evidence was later withdrawn, in circumstances 
described above. If the intention had been to give a definitive summing-up 
of a long enquiry, these defects would be very serious. But that was not 
the purpose of the book, which was a pioneer book designed to open the 
way to long-term study of telepathy in all its aspects, spontaneous and 
experimental. 

The value of the book as a repository of fact should not be discounted 
because the authors, who were their own severest critics, found that here 
and there theyjiad been mistaken. But it is the brilliance of the theoretical 

17 














discussion which more than anything else gives the book its lasting impor¬ 
tance. There is the analysis of what are the proper standards of evidence, 
particularly evidence from spontaneous cases, in psychical research: 
what are the defects to which that type of evidence is peculiarly subject; 
and how these can be overcome, so as to clear spontaneous cases, which 
provide some of the most informative material in psychical research, of the 
charge of “ anecdotalism ” too often justified with regard to cases lacking 
the authority of the S.P.R. 1 

Brilliant too is the discussion of the nature and origin of hallucinations, 
and of the various psychological states that favour supernormal experiences. 

The Census of Hallucinations 

Gurney died in 1888, not long after Phantasms was published. In the 
following year a more systematic enquiry with the same general object, but 
on a much larger scale, was launched by a committee of the S.P.R., 
largely under the guidance of Mrs Sidgwick, who drafted the Report 
with the assistance of Alice Johnson, the secretary to the committee. The 
basis of the enquiry, known as “ the Census of Hallucinations ”, was the 
following question, to which 17,000 answers were obtained : 

Have you ever, when believing yourself to be completely awake, had 
a vivid impression of seeing or being touched by a living or inanimate 
object, or of hearing a voice ; which impression, so far as you can dis¬ 
cover, was not due to any external physical cause? ( Proc . x, 33.) 

From those who answered in the affirmative further particulars were 
obtained as to the nature, date, etc. of the impression. The answers were 
submitted to detailed analysis—and it may not be out of place here to recall 
that both Mrs Sidgwick and Alice Johnson were very familiar with statistical 
methods in scientific enquiry. The analysis classified the answers in many 
different ways, paying particular attention to “ death-coincidences ”, that 
is, hallucinations relating to recognised persons and occurring within 
twelve hours of the death of the person concerned, the death being of 
course neither known to the percipient nor expected by him at that time. 
The committee were satisfied that the connection between such hallucina¬ 
tions and the death of the person concerned was too close to be regarded 
as fortuitous, thereby confirming the view taken, on a narrower basis of 
fact, by the authors of Phantasms. 

For a later generation, who have before them the large numbers of well- 
evidenced cases of veridical hallucination to be found in our Proceedings 
and Journal it may appear strange that the authors of Phantasms , and the 
Census Committee also, should have attached so much importance to 
fitting the cases they were collecting into a statistical framework ill adapted 
to receive them. Only one type of veridical hallucination could be 
assessed quantitatively, the death-coincidental type, and that most 
imperfectly, as the authors of Phantasms and the Census Report well 
realised, for in most cases of death-coincidence there are other corres- 


1 Walter Prince, who collected many cases in America, maintained an admirable 
standard of evidence. 


18 


pondences between the experience and the event, besides the simple fact 
of occurrence within twelve hours of the death. If the argument against 
an explanation by chance is strong when based on the simple fact of corres¬ 
pondence within a narrow time limit, it is of course immensely strengthened 
if due weight be allowed to other factors of correspondence which a quan¬ 
titative analysis has to ignore. It appears however to have been thought 
that, in view of the novelty of psychical research, quantitative arguments, 
even if imperfect, would carry more weight with some of the Society's 
critics than any amount of purely qualitative reasoning. 

The members of the Census Committee have all long since died, but it is 
pleasant to be able to record that Count Perovski-Petrovo-Solovovo, often 
referred to in S.P.R. literature as “ Count Solovovo ” or by his initials, 
P.P.S., had already shewn that active interest in psychical research which 
he still retains. 

The Journal 

From the end of 1884 on, most of the spontaneous cases collected by the 
Society that have been thought good enough to print (apart from those 
collected for the Census) have first appeared in the Journal . As the 
Journal is issued for private circulation, contributors have often allowed 
cases to be printed there which, on account of the privacy of the matter 
involved, they would not have been willing to have published. No cases 
are printed in the Journal which the Editor considers fundamentally un¬ 
sound, but several of the cases that have appeared have some technical 
evidential defect, to which attention is usually drawn in the printed report. 
In some of the cases again, it is not certain that a normal explanation, 
such as chance-coincidence, will not cover the facts. To offer cases of this 
kind to the public might mislead readers unfamiliar with the Society's 
work. Our members, however, may derive a good deal of instruction from 
weighing reports of cases which for one reason or another fall short of the 
highest standard. 

The Journal has of course other purposes. It is a convenient vehicle for 
official notices and it has provided space in which members can indulge 
in mutual criticism without feeling that publicity was cramping their style. 

Phantasms of The Dead 

Of direct evidence for survival not much was forthcoming in the first 
years of the S.P.R. After the publication of Phantasms , apparitions of 
the dying ceased to count in that direction. It was possible to build a 
survivalist argument out of the comparatively rare cases of apparitions 
seen some time after death by persons still ignorant that the death had 
occurred. When seen very shortly after death, apparitions might reason¬ 
ably be explained as the emergence of latent telepathic impressious received 
before death. How long a period of latency was to be allowed? In tele¬ 
pathic experiments latency for more than twelve hours was rarely found, 
and the same limit was fixed for the spontaneous cases. 

But as other types of mental content may remain dormant in the sub¬ 
conscious for many years, it is doubtful whether there is any real justifies - 

19 











tion for imposing this narrow limit of latency on telepathic impressions, 
and it may be that this is an example of the too ready application to spon¬ 
taneous phenomena of inferences drawn from experiments with a different 
kind of material. If, accordingly, the latency period for telepathic impres¬ 
sions ought to be considerably extended, a large proportion of the not too 
numerous class of phantasms of the dead ought to be classified as phan¬ 
tasms of the dying. This would seriously weaken the argument for 
survival based on apparitions of the dead. 

Mrs Piper 

In 1886 Hodgson and William James reported remarkable results 
obtained with the American medium, Mrs Piper, whose mediumship 
began in 1884. In 1889, on the recommendation of Hodgson and James, 
she paid the first of her visits to England as guest of the S.P.R. 

Our Society has been fortunate in establishing cordial relations with a 
succession of mediums through whom messages claiming to come from 
the dead have been received. Of this line Mrs'Piper was the first, and 
perhaps the most distinguished. She is still living though long retired 
from mediumship. 

It was typical of the earlier mediums, as for example Home and Stainton 
Moses, that their communications were mixed up with their physical 
phenomena. Each type of phenomenon was supposed to give support to 
the other, and on occasions it looked as if communications of no high 
evidential value were put forward for acceptance because they were 
accompanied and guaranteed by physical phenomena, themselves of 
dubious quality, and vice versa. With Mrs Piper the communications can 
be judged on their own merits. Moreover with her begins to emerge a 
distinction of the highest importance between the ‘‘Communicator”, 
i.e. the discarnate entity from whom a message claims to originate, and the 
“ Control ”, who acts as intermediary between the sitter and the Communi¬ 
cator. The distinction in Mrs Piper’s case, however, is not always clear 
cut. 

Some of her Controls would not nowadays be able to make much of a 
case for recognition as personalities independent of the medium ; Phinuit, 
for example, who claimed to be a French doctor, but showed no knowledge, 
beyond a smattering, of either French or medicine. Later Mrs Piper had 
a Control, styled “ Rector ”, whose authoritative manner impressed many 
sitters. He claimed to be a member of the Imperator Band of spirits, 
which had controlled Stainton Moses, but gave himself another name than 
the then unpublished name which had been disclosed to Stainton Moses 
by the “ Rector ” Control of that medium. The wider knowledge now 
available concerning mediumistic Controls and the secondary personalities 
in cases of dissociation makes it hard to take Phinuit or Rector as having, 
or ever having had, an existence independent of Mrs Piper. 

But in between Phinuit and Rector came “ George Pelham ”, the name 
by which a young man who died in America in 1892 is known in the Piper 
records. George Pelham (or “ G. P.”) sometimes acted as a Control, but 
he also gave evidence that convinced Hodgson, whose general scepticism 

20 


was notorious, of his identity with the George Pelham, whom Hodgson 
had known well in life. Thus Hodgson, through whom sittings with 
Mrs Piper were arranged, reports as follows (Proc. xiii, 330) : 

I may say generally that out of a large number of sitters who went 
as strangers to Mrs Piper, the communicating G. P. has picked on the 
friends of G. P. living, precisely as the G. P. living might have been 
expected to do, and has exhibited memories in connection with these and 
other friends which are such as would naturally be associated as part of 
the G. P. personality, which certainly do not suggest in themselves that 
they originate otherwise, and which are accompanied by the emotional 
relations which were connected with such friends in the mind of G. P. 
living. 

Apart from a few doubtful cases, which he discusses, there were, says 
Hodgson (p. 328): 

thirty cases of true recognition out of at least one hundred and fifty 
persons who have had sittings with Mrs Piper since the first appearance 
of G. P., and no case of false recognition. 

Some further developments of Mrs Piper’s mediumship after 1901 are 
discussed in Part III. 

Mrs Thompson 

In 1896 began the mediumship of Mrs Edmond Thompson, a non¬ 
professional medium with whom Myers had several sittings during the 
last few years of his life, and through whom he obtained communications 
to which he attached great importance. The records of Myers’s sittings 
are not available, but reports of several other S.P.R. members who had 
sittings with her are to be found in Proc. xvii and xviii. Unfortunately 
soon after Myers’s death she decided to discontinue her mediumship. 

Physical Phenomena 

(a) The Theosophical Society. 

It is now time to turn back to the first decade of the S.P.R. and to con¬ 
sider the investigation of physical phenomena during those years. This was 
the sphere in which Hodgson first distinguished himself. In the summer 
of 1884 Mme Blavatsky visited England and was interviewed by a committee 
of the S.P.R. appointed to investigate phenomena connected with the 
Theosophical Society. The committee was considerably impressed by the 
evidence of Mme Blavatsky and her friends, and in a report, circulated 
within the Society but not published, declared : 

On the whole (though with some serious reserves) it seems undeniable 
that there is a prima facie case for some part at least of the claim made. 

The committee recommended sending an observer to India for some 
months to investigate on the spot. Hodgson, then quite a young maa 
was chosen for the purpose. He spent several months in India investiga- 

A4 21 






ting the marvels reported to centre round a Theosophic shrine near 
Madras. The report ( Proc. iii) which he made on his return of the tangle 
of fraud, intrigue and credulity he there discovered placed Mme Blavat- 
sky’s claims in an entirely different light. 

(b) The Hodgson-Davey Report. 

Hodgson profited by his stay in India to make a study of the methods of 
Indian jugglers, which he put to good use on his return, in the investiga¬ 
tion of physical mediums. 

The early investigators of physical phenomena had very little idea how 
to proceed in order to distinguish between true and false. Even a man of 
Crookes's ability started his investigations without taking any serious 
precautions against fraud ; see the description of the seance on p. 191 
of his Life by Fournier d’Albe. 

When this attitude of implicit confidence was found to lead investigators 
nowhere, the next measure designed to detect trickery was to interrupt the 
seance by rough and ready methods. If, for example, the phenomena 
consisted of materialised phantoms, some sceptical enquirer of those remote 
days would grab the phantom. The beards and robes of several “ spirits ” 
were carried off as trophies, and found to consist of the most mundane 
materials. But this was not really a satisfactory procedure, however much 
entertainment it gave the grabber. Mediums objected to it as likely to do 
serious damage to their physical and mental constitution, and, where the 
medium was in genuine trance, this objection could not lightly be dis¬ 
missed. Anyhow, the mediums objected, and often refused to give 
sittings unless the sitters gave their word of honour not to grab. There was 
another objection from a different point of view, that grabbing, when 
successful, merely exposed fraud, without in general revealing much as to 
how or why the fraud was practised. 

With grabbing barred, it was still often possible to bring indirect 
evidence that deception was being practised and to indicate the methods 
probably being used. But Hodgson carried the matter a good deal further 
with the assistance of his friend, S. J. Davey. There was at that time a 
medium named Eglinton, with a blemished past. His slate-writing pheno¬ 
mena were, however, still declared by many to be inexplicable by normal 
methods. Davey, who had made a special study of slate-writing tricks, 
gave sittings under an assumed name, at which he duplicated Eglinton’s 
performances, making no assertion as to whether his methods were normal 
or otherwise. The sitters, who were introduced by Hodgson, included 
experienced members of the S.P.R. After the sitting they wrote out in 
detail what they had witnessed, or thought they had witnessed. Hodgson 
and Davey then proceeded to point out to them how far their statements 
departed from the actual course of events, and what loopholes for decep¬ 
tion had been overlooked by them and utilised by Davey, whose methods 
had, of course, been normal throughout. Their paper, The Possibilities of 
Mal-observation and Lapse of Memory from a Practical Point of View in 
Vol. iv of Proceedings , with Hodgson’s continuation in Vol. viii, is among 
the “ classic ” papers in our Proceedings. 

22 


(c) Eusapia Palladino. 

Hodgson also played a prominent part in the chequered career of the 
Italian medium, Eusapia Palladino, the most famous medium of her day 
for physical phenomena. She first made her name by sittings at various 
places in Italy and France attended by several continental researchers of 
distinction. The Sidgwicks, Lodge and Myers also attended some of these 
sittings, and were considerably impressed, while noting an apparent 
intention to deceive, if opportunity were given. One particular trick was 
suspected, and Hodgson, reading the sitters’ reports, thought he knew 
how the trick was performed. He formed the opinion that, if the trick had 
been used without the sitters’ detecting it, there was no evidence for any 
supernormal phenomena. In 1 895 Eusapia came to Cambridge and gave 
sittings at Myers’s house. At some of these Hodgson was present, and 
Eusapia was caught using the suspected trick in the suspected way. 

But later Myers and Richet had sittings with her in Paris at which they 
observed phenomena which in their opinion were genuine. In Part III 
an account will be given of still later investigations of Eusapia by members 
of the S.P.R. 

(d) Poltergeists. 

It was a poltergeist case in the Fox household which started the whole 
spiritualist movement, but, notwithstanding this, there was little investiga¬ 
tion of this type of occurrence until after the foundation of the S.P.R. 
Even then investigation proceeded slowly. Podmore {Proc. xii), analysing 
in 1896 all the poltergeist cases reported on by S.P.R. investigators , could 
find only eleven. In his view, trickery was certain in many of these cases 
and probable in all the rest. He drew attention to what has since become a 
common-place of research, the frequency with which the phenomena 
clustered round, and could often be shown to have been produced by, what 
would now be called “ a problem child ”, an adolescent, mentally or 
physically subnormal and not well adjusted to the circumstances in which 
he, or more often she, was placed. Podmore inclined to the view that if 
expert investigators could in all cases observe what happened, deception 
would be found a sufficient explanation. His theory, derisively called 
“ the naughty little girl theory ”, was vigorously combatted by Andrew 
Lang and others. They brought forward cases which Podmore’s theory 
would not cover, but it is notable how many of these cases were, from the 
psychical researcher’s point of view, prehistoric. Podmore described the 
typical poltergeist case well enough, but there are well-established cases 
without adolescents, and it is possible that there are some cases in which 
deception does not explain everything. 

Deaths of Sidgwick and Myers 

Henry Sidgwick died in August 1900, and Frederic Myers in January 
1901. They had been colleagues in psychical research for over thirty 
years. With Gurney, they had been the principal founders of the Society, 
and since its foundation their influence had been predominant in determin¬ 
ing its policy and development. Their deaths therefore may be considered 

23 












as closing an epoch in psychical research, of which only the main events 
can be touched on in this sketch. 

However distinguished the founders of any society may be, there comes 
a time, if the society continues to survive, when a later generation will 
wish to consider how much of the work done in its earlier years still holds 
the field, and how much has been superseded. The best proof of the 
soundness of the work done by the founders of the S.P.R. is that after 
sixty-five years the Society still flourishes, with a larger membership than 
in 1901 ; that it has resisted all efforts to convert it into an organisation 
for spreading dogma rather than pursuing research ; and that it has 
shown little tendency to become either cranky or stagnant. The 
founders would have wished to see the frontiers of knowledge pushed 
further than they had themselves been able to advance. This has been 
done ; their problems are not quite our problems, nor their point of view 
ours. No one in our time could venture to appraise the permanent value 
of their work without much diffidence, but no one attempting a sketch of 
the Society’s history, and coming to such a turning-point, could evade the 
attempt. I accordingly suggest the following points as deserving considera¬ 
tion. 

Increase of Knowledge; 1882-1901 

The achievements of this period may be considered under the headings 
of facts, theory and technique. 

(a) Facts. 

Psychical research is an attempt to correlate and interpret what appear 
to be unusual facts. They may be facts which are unusual only in appear¬ 
ance, or they may not be facts at all. Facts which are both certainly and 
obviously facts have mostly been incorporated into other systems of 
enquiry. How is the psychical researcher to be sure that his facts are 
facts ? The repeatable experiment, the favoured instrument of the scientist, 
is of little help to him. P'or most experimental purposes he will have to 
take for his subject some person having, or claiming to have, exceptional 
powers. His results are not likely to carry the same weight with later 
students, to whom he and his subject are unknown, as results which can be 
repeated over and over again by any competent experimenter. In this 
respect the experimenter in psychical research is in the same position as 
the reporter of a sitting with a medium or of a veridical apparition. What 
personal reputation each of them has for trustworthiness will doubtless 
count for much, but what is likely to impress later students is the frequent 
repetition of similar results and similar experiences with several indepen¬ 
dent experimenters and observers, assuming them to be both competent 
and honest. 

Results of experiments and spontaneous observations for which parallel 
after parallel can be found over a long period of time ought to be considered 
as well established as the results of a repeated experiment. Exact repeti¬ 
tion of detail is of course not to be expected, or desired. 

If the data accumulated in the first period of S.P.R. history, whether 

24 


spontaneous, experimental or mediumistic, be considered in comparison 
with data collected in the remaining forty-six years of its activities, parallels 
in abundance can be found for most of them. Experimental telepathy has 
produced at least as remarkable successes in the twentieth as in the nine¬ 
teenth century. Later investigations of physical and mental mediums 
show close conformity in type to the Eusapia and Piper records of fifty 
years and more ago. 

The same is true of the spontaneous phenomena, taken as a whole. 
There have been three large collections of spontaneous cases at intervals 
of years, first Phantasms in 1886, then the Census in 1894 and last, Mrs 
Sidgwick’s long paper in 1923 ( Proc . xxxiii). If these three collections are 
compared, it will at once appear that almost every type of veridical case to 
be found in one collection has the support of several cases, differing only 
in detail, in the others, and the inference to be drawn from the agreement 
of these three collections is confirmed by the cases printed in the Journal 
since the last of them was compiled. Cases conforming to such types 
may, in my view, be safely used as a basis for theory. 

There should, however, be considerable reserve in using for theoretical 
purposes cases which, as regards their main features, remain after all these 
years without parallel, or with very few parallels, in the S.P.R. Proceedings 
and Journal. “ Hard cases make bad law,” and unique cases make bad 
psychical research. This seems to me true not only of spontaneous cases, 
but also of phenomena peculiar to a single medium. If genuine, they will 
sooner or later be reproduced independently. 

This view, if correct, holds good of course for all periods of S.P.R. 
activity, but it has a special relevance to the first period owing to the 
paucity of contemporary, first-hand material, and to the allowance which 
must be made in all new enquiries for lack of experience. 

(b) Theory. 

The importance of the work of Gurney and Myers in hypnotism is men¬ 
tioned elsewhere (p. 15). Later investigations have called for little modifi¬ 
cation of Gurney’s views on veridical hallucinations. But all other 
theoretical developments of the time are overshadowed by Myers’s theory 
of the subliminal, as set out in his posthumous book, Human Personality. 
Most later psychical research may be regarded as a commentary on this 
theory, which Myers did not live to put into final shape. There are un¬ 
doubted gaps in it, which he might have filled, and ambiguities which he 
might have cleared up, if the very slender direct evidence about communi¬ 
cations from the dead printed in the book had been amplified by reports of 
his own sittings with Mrs Piper and Mrs Thompson. For a friendly 
criticism of Myers’s theory the reviews of W. James and Walter Leaf 
{Proc. xviii) should be consulted, as also the concluding section of G. W. 
Balfour’s paper on the psychology of Mrs Willett {Proc. xliii). 

(c) Technique. 

In all branches the Society had set high standards for the guidance of 
later workers, who cannot plead lack of information as to what sort of 
evidence is indispensable in different types of spontaneous cases, or what 

25 





















are the main errors into which the investigator of physical phenomena is 
likely to fall, or how sittings with trance mediums should be recorded and 
annotated. 

In the pioneer work that needed doing before these standards could be 
set up, even such critical persons as the leaders of the Society in its early 
years could not avoid some mistakes. But with a few exceptions the 
factual evidence contained in the early volumes of Proceedings and in 
Phantasms is worthy of the brilliant theoretical discussion that accompanies 
it. To many members of the Society it has probably happened, as it has to 
the writer, to fancy that they have hit on an argument of enormous import¬ 
ance and startling originality, and then to turn to the early writings, it may 
be of Henry Sidgwick, or Mrs Sidgwick, or Myers or Gurney, and there to 
find the point conclusively dealt with, whether by way of affirmation or 
rejection, in language of unrivalled cogency and lucidity. 


26 


PART III 


THE WORK OF THE S.P.R. FROM 1901 TO 1919 
Oliver Lodge’s Presidency 

Any division of S.P.R. history into periods must necessarily be artificial, 
but there have been points at or about which some forms of research have 
made rapid advances, while others declined in prominence, and groups of 
new workers have come forward to fill the places of those lost to our work 
by death or retirement. One of such points was reached when Myers died 
in 1901, and the close of the First World War may be taken as approxim¬ 
ately the end of another period. 

Heavy as was the blow of Sidgwick’s and Myers’s deaths, there were 
fortunately other members who had taken a leading part in S.P.R. work 
since early days and were able and willing both to carry on the work them¬ 
selves and to advise and encourage new workers. Myers was President at 
the time of his death, and the first task was to find a successor with Myers’s 
remarkable ability to work harmoniously with psychical researchers of the 
most divergent opinions and temperaments. Lodge was invited and con¬ 
sented to act, though he could well have pleaded that the duties recently 
undertaken by him as first Principal of Birmingham University, in addition 
to his researches in physics, were more than enough to task his energies. 
His Presidency for 1901 and the two following years kept the Society 
united and in good heart, and his close cooperation with Mrs Sidgwick 
over the thirty years that followed enabled the S.P.R. to surmount several 
awkward crises, with the result that as Joint Presidents in the year of the 
Society’s Jubilee (1932) they could with confidence augur for it many 
more years of prosperous activity. 

They received invaluable support from Alice Johnson, who had been 
appointed Editor of Proceedings in 1899 at Myers’s instance. She became 
Secretary in 1903 and Research Officer in 1907. From 1901 until her 
retirement through ill-health in 1917 she bore the brunt of the novel and 
very difficult investigations shortly to be described. 

The Society was also extremely fortunate in recruiting, first (1905) as 
Assistant Secretary, and then, in 1909, as Secretary, Miss Isabel Newton. 
She continued to be Secretary until 1938, and then, after a brief retire-* 
ment, agreed to serve on the Council, and in that capacity bore a large 
share of the burden of the administrative work of the S.P.R. through most 
of the Second World War. Although her main duties were administrative, 
she took a more important share in research than her modesty has ever 
consented to admit. 


27 















The Research Endowment Fund 

During Lodge’s Presidency and as the result of an appeal by him, a 
Research Endowment Fund was created. Several very generous donations 
from members, and a legacy of over £3,800 from Aksakoff, a Russian 
psychical researcher, soon brought the fund to over £6,000. The intention 
was that the fund should be accumulated until the income was sufficient 
to remunerate a full-time research officer. Mr Piddington was for a long 
time the acting Trustee, and it is largely due to his careful management 
that the present income of the Fund is £580. 

Myers’s “ Human Personality ” 

For several years before his death Myers had been preparing a book 
which should set out all he had learnt by experiment and observation, all 
he had read, all he had thought on the problem of human personality and 
survival. At his death some parts of the book were much more advanced 
than others. By his wishes completion of the book was entrusted to Hodg¬ 
son and Alice Johnson who duly prepared it for publication. It appeared 
in February 1903, under the title of Human Personality and its Survival of 
Bodily Death . This is, of course, the great classic in the literature of 
psychical research, and one of the great books in the literature of its time. 
On p. 25 some comments are expressed on Myers’s theory of the sub¬ 
liminal, and reference is made to the reviews of the book by W. James and 
Leaf, and to G. W. Balfour’s criticism of the theory. Any further attempt 
in a sketch of this scale to summarise or appraise a book of this importance 
would be absurd. 

Podmore’s Modern Spiritualism 

In 1902, the year before the publication of Human Personality , there 
appeared another book which, judged by any standard other than that set 
by Myers, might be considered of first importance, namely Podmore’s 
Modern Spiritualism. In his early days Podmore had been a spiritualist, 
but as his studies progressed, he became a hardened sceptic. With 
immense learning and skill he traces from their remote sources the many 
streams that converged in the spiritualist movement. But many critics, 
and not all of them spiritualists, while recognising these merits, have 
questioned whether the impartiality of his comments equals the skill with 
which he marshals the evidence. However that may be, it is still the best 
book of its kind. 

# Eusapia Palladino : The Naples Sittings 

In 1908 the Society departed from its traditional policy of refusing to 
investigate mediums previously detected in deliberate trickery, and 
appointed a committee to hold further sittings with Eusapia Palladino. 
An Introductory Note to the Committee’s Report gives the following 
reasons why the traditional policy had previously prevailed ( Proc. xxiii, 
306-308): 


28 


The reasons against employing fraudulent mediums are very obvious. 
It encourages a mischievous trade, the existence of which stands in the 
way of scientific investigation. . . . Proved trickery does not exclude the 
possibility of genuine phenomena even in connection with the trickster. 
But it reduces the value of evidence obtained through such a medium, 
since even if a competent investigator convinces himself that he has not 
been deceived by any conjurer’s arts, it is difficult for him to produce 
the same conviction in others. Moreover, the prevalence of proved 
trickery tends to discredit the whole subject and to deter honest persons 
who think they may have these special powers from lending themselves 
to investigation. And further, it tends to foster a belief, likely to fulfil 
itself through suggestion, that conditions which are favourable to fraud 
are those favourable to phenomena. 

Notwithstanding these reasons, the Council agreed to sanction further 
investigation of Eusapia because “ those engaged in Psychical Research 
abroad have continued their investigations” and because “some of the 
recorded phenomena . . . cannot be explained by her detected methods of 
trickery 

The committee consisted of Everard Feilding, Baggally and Mr Here- 
ward Carrington, then an officer of the American S.P.R., and still (1948) 
active in psychical research. All three had abundant experience in 
investigating physical phenomena, and were thoroughly conversant with 
the tricks then current among fraudulent mediums. Eleven sittings were 
held, at ten of which striking phenomena of many kinds were observed, 
including levitation, movements of curtains, production of heads and 
hands (or something resembling them), raps and lights. As no better 
qualified group of investigators has ever reported in favour of the 
genuineness of physical phenomena, the paragraph in which they sum up 
their findings deserves quotation (Proc. xxiii, 341) : 

Thus our conclusions are based on the resultant impressions derived 
from the whole series, since we are unable to say to what special pheno¬ 
mena these conclusions extend, and we limit ourselves here to a statement 
of opinion, amounting in our own minds to certainty, that to explain 
Eusapia’s manifestations some agency of a kind wholly different from 
mere physical dexterity on her part must be invoked. 

This was the peak of Eusapia’s achievement, fraud being prevalent at 
her later sittings, including some in 1910 with Feilding and Count Solo- 
vovo. 

The S.P.R. Code of Investigation 

Whether the Council were wise, in the case of Eusapia, to depart from 
the traditional S.P.R. rule against investigating mediums detected in 
deliberate trickery is open to question. It is to be observed that this rule, 
the arguments for which have been sufficiently stated above, was part of a 
wider code designed, amongst other things, to create and maintain mutual 
confidence between medium and investigator, and between one investigator 
and another. 


29 









If the Society’s standards of mediumistic honesty were high, so were the 
standards of conduct by the investigator towards the medium on which it 
insisted. Willing mediums were not to be overworked. Above all, the 
investigator must not act as agent provocateur. There has been, for 
example, general disapproval in the Society of Dr Stanley Hall’s experi¬ 
ments with Mrs Piper, in which, to quote Mrs Sidgwick’s comment ( Proc. 
xxviii, 13): 

he deceived the Hodgson Control—“ told awful whoppers ” as the Con¬ 
trol expressed it—and induced him by verbal suggestion to accept a 
false claim of acquaintance, to introduce imaginary Communicators, and 
so forth. 

It is doubtless not easy to draw a line where legitimate experiment ends 
and agence provocatrice begins. 

The code also required the strictest candour between investigators, the 
Society setting a good example in its early days by the frank admission of 
error regarding the Creery sisters. Here again its example was not always 
followed, as the history of Marthe Beraud will show (Proc. xxvii, 333 - 343 ): 

In 1903 a French family named Noel, living in Algiers, were holding 
seances at which fully materialised phantoms appeared. A regular 
member of the circle was a young girl named Marthe Beraud. In 1904 a 
friend of the family, a lawyer named Marsault, was invited to attend. 
According to a statement published by him in 1906, Marthe Beraud, in a 
private chat before the seance, freely admitted that she faked the appari¬ 
tions for fun. But in 1905, Richet, who had attended some later sittings, 
published a favourable report on them. Marsault’s publication in 1906, 
therefore, raised a lively controversy as to Marthe Beraud’s honesty. It is 
not necessary for the present purpose to consider the rights and wrongs of 
this controversy, beyond emphasising the fact that Marsault’s story was 
circumstantial and could not lightly be dismissed. 

Early in 1909 a medium known as “ Eva C.” began to give sittings for a 
private circle in Paris. Schrenck-Notzing, a psychical researcher whose 
experience and social and professional distinction made him a recognised 
leader of psychical research on the Continent, published in 1914 a book 
(Materialisationsphanomene), favourable to Eva C.’s genuineness, without 
giving the reader any hint that Eva C. and Marthe Beraud were the same 
person, although he knew quite well that they were. 

There were in fact two codes, an S.P.R. code and a less rigorous one. 
The difference between them should not be stated as one between insular 
virtue and global iniquity, for not all Continental or American investigators 
favoured the looser code, and not all researchers in this country have 
adhered strictly to S.P.R. standards. It was really a difference between a 
long-term policy and a policy of quick results. If there had been sufficient 
solidarity among psychical researchers to adhere to the S.P.R. policy for, 
say, forty or fifty years, physical mediums might have been educated to the 
same standard of probity that is taken as a matter of course with such 
mediums as Mrs Piper and Mrs Leonard, and the relations between 
investigators of physical phenomena would have been everywhere as free 

30 


from mutual recrimination and imputations of bad faith, as they have been 
among followers of the S.P.R. code. 

We are approaching a time when the Society became more than ever 
immersed in the study of physical phenomena. In spheres outside the 
Society’s control conditions were already being prepared that would in 
due course affect the Society’s investigations, and it is not out of place to 
consider here the nature of these conditions. 

The Medical Section of the S.P.R. 

There is a very large field where psychopathology and psychical research 
overlap : it includes the study of multiple personality. This is in the main 
within the province of psychopathology, although some of the most 
interesting cases, as for example that of Ansel Bourne (Proc. vii), have been 
investigated by psychical researchers. 

The similarity of some secondary personalities to the “Controls” of 
some mediums has already been mentioned. It is not surprising therefore 
that many psychopathologists were also interested in psychical research. 
Not only were Flournoy, Janet and Morton Prince, the recorder of the 
Beauchamp case, Corresponding Members of the S.P.R., but many 
S.P.R. members resident in this country were actively engaged in psycho¬ 
pathology. T. W. Mitchell (President, 1922) contributed to Proceedings 
several papers designed to make clear to the lay psychical researcher the 
complex phenomena of dissociation : see, e.g. Proc. xxvi, 257-311. To 
quote from a later paper of his (Proc. xlv, 182) : 

In the early years of the twentieth century the part played by Medical 
Psychology in psychical research became so considerable that the Council 
of the S.P.R. decided to form a Medical Section of the Society and to 
publish at intervals special medical parts of Proceedings. Part 66, 
Vol. xxvi of Proceedings was the first, and the last special medical part 
that was issued : for in 1914 the war came, and after the war the medical 
section of the S.P.R. was discontinued. . . . 

The reason, as Mitchell explains, was the formation of a Medical Section 
within the British Psychological Society, with a quarterly journal of its 
own, The British Journal of Medical Psychology. Of this Journal Mitchell 
was for many years the editor. 

Mitchell refers in the same article to the important work done by several 
medical members of the S.P.R. in the treatment of “ shell-shock during 
the First World War. I have heard him say that but for the investigations 
of psycho-pathological states carried out before 1914 by me dical 
members of the S.P.R. the Army Medical Service would have been much 
worse prepared than it was to deal with “ shell shock 

Since that time relations between psychical research and medical 
psychology have been less intimate, to the detriment of both, since they 
have many problems in common. 

The leaders of two analytical schools then becoming prominent, Freud 
and Jung, appear on our list of Corresponding Members, and both have 
contributed to S.P.R. Proceedings , but not all the exponents of analytical 

3 1 












psychology in this country have been free from a dogmatic intolerance 
alien to S.P.R. traditions. 

To this period belongs also the Doris Fischer case of multiple person¬ 
ality, a case hardly less important than that of Miss Beauchamp, and even 
more instructive as to the relationship of secondary personalities and 
mediumistic Controls. The case was reported to the American S.P.R. by 
Walter Prince, who, later, was for many years the leading psychical 
researcher in the United States, and was President of the S.P.R. in 1930 
and 1931. It was reviewed at length by Mitchell in Proc. xxxi. 

Experiments in Telepathy 

In 1905 two members of the Society, Miss Miles and Miss Ramsden, 
began experiments in thought-transference at a distance. Miss Miles, 
who acted as agent, was part of the time in London, part in the west of 
England and part on the Continent: the percipient, Miss Ramsden, was 
in Scotland. Miss Miles attempted to transmit impressions, generally 
connected with passing incidents of her own life or the places she was 
visiting. Miss Ramsden recorded her impressions, accompanied in several 
cases by sketches of scenes, unknown to herself, in which she believed 
Miss Miles to be interested at the time. Although on many occasions there 
was little or no success, several of Miss Ramsden’s sketches and verbal 
descriptions were so close to the real thing as to make chance coincidence 
an improbable explanation. (Proc. xxi and xxvii.) 

Even more remarkable were the experiments, extending from 1910 to 
1920, in which Dr Gilbert Murray acted as percipient, the agents being 
mostly members of his family (see Proc. xxix and xxxiv). The subject 
matter included scenes from history and fiction, incidents in real life 
known to the family, and imaginary and fantastic occurrences. A high 
proportion of success was attained, and the incomplete successes are 
particularly instructive as to process, since the various errors which 
marred complete success often reveal whether the impression reached the 
percipient as a phrase, a visual image, or a more generalised concept. 
Some of the errors were of the kind that occur through mis-hearing, and 
suggested that the successes as a whole might be due to auditory hyper- 
aesthesia, i.e. exceptional (it would need to be very exceptional) sensitive¬ 
ness of the ordinary faculty of hearing, since agent and percipient were in 
the same house, though in different rooms, when the “ targets ” were 
chosen. This suggestion, which Dr Murray himself is inclined to favour, 
is discussed, Proc. xxix, 71-83. A few experiments which my wife and I 
had with Dr Murray in 1931 (Journal xxxii, 29-38) make us doubt whether 
hyperaesthesia would cover the results we then obtained. 

Automatic Writing 

(a) General. 

Long before the S.P.R. was founded many persons had discovered that, 
in one way or another, they were able to obtain coherent messages that did 
not, so far as they could judge, originate in their own minds. For the 
production of such messages various devices have been employed—table- 

32 


tilting, planchette, ouija-board—but many automatists use nothing more 
elaborate than an ordinary pencil. The automatist is usually in a psycho¬ 
logical state a little removed from complete consciousness, the borderline 
state perhaps between sleep and waking, in which so many veridical 
impressions are received, or in light trance. Neither technique of pro¬ 
duction nor degree of dissociation matter very much. The automatist 
usually has no conscious knowledge of what he (or she) is about to write 
or say, beyond the next few words. Much automatic writing shows no 
sign of being anything else than the product of the automatist’s subliminal. 
Sometimes, however, the content of the messages suggests that the sub¬ 
liminal is the channel for them rather than their ultimate source. 

(b) The S.P.R. Group of Automatists. 

In 1901 began a series of automatic writings that continued till after 
1930. If the labour expended on their interpretation and'discussion be 
taken into account, they constitute the largest and most elaborate piece of 
work undertaken by the Society. First and last well over three thousand 
scripts were produced by the group, which comprised about a dozen auto¬ 
matists. The word “ scripts ” is here taken to include not only automatic 
writings, but also contemporary records of trance or “ inspirational ” 
utterance, and of visual impressions received in the borderline state. 

To describe the automatists as a “ group ” may give a false impression 
of the associations between them, since they never met as a group ; in 
some cases never met each other as individuals ; in most cases had only 
the slightest acquaintance with each other before they became, through 
their scripts, de facto members of the group. They differed from each 
other in many ways : in nationality, for two were American, while the 
rest were British ; in residence (various parts of the United Kingdom, the 
United States, India, Egypt); tastes ; age ; literary and linguistic attain¬ 
ments. The principal members of the group were the following : Mrs 
Verrall, who began writing in 1901 and continued till her death in 1916 ; 
Mrs Piper, whose connection with the group dates from 1902 ; Mrs 
Holland (pseudonym) who joined in 1903 ; Miss Helen Verrall, 
daughter of Mrs Verrall, and now my wife, who joined in the same year; 
Mrs Willett (pseudonym), whose automatic writing began in 1908 ; 
Dame Edith Lyttelton, who, when she began writing in 1913, was 
known as “ Mrs King ” ; and Mrs Stuart Wilson who became a member 
of the group in 1915. None of the group, except Mrs Piper, was a 
professional medium. 

(c) The Interpretation of the Scripts. 

So large a mass of scripts needed several investigators to handle it. The 
scripts were cryptic and enigmatic in style, full of literary allusions and 
quotations, some of them abstruse, in classical and modern languages. 
The sources had to be traced, and the connections between the sources, as 
most passages of European literature have traceable affiliations with 
earlier passages. It was important to note the date when any significant 
phrase or quotation first appeared in any script, and whether it reappeared, 
and, if so, in whose script, when and how often, and also to record with 

33 






relevant dates the exact extent of each automatisms normal knowledge of 
every other automatisms script. Mrs Verrall, Alice Johnson, Oliver Lodge, 
G. W. Balfour and Mr Piddington all at one time or another took part in 
the work of interpretation, the brunt of it as time went on falling on Mr 
Piddington. 

( d ) The Cross-correspondences. 

Shortly after Myers's death in January 1901, Mrs Verrall, who had been 
a close friend of his, began to practise automatic writing. By March 1901 
she was obtaining script which, if grammatically irregular in the highest 
degree, still had some sort of meaning. It was an odd jumble of Latin and 
Greek, with both which languages she was familiar, and the divergence of 
her script from her habitual standards of scholarship raises the question 
whether an essential part of the plan, of which her scripts show abundant 
signs, was not to conceal from her conscious mind, which was acutely self- 
critical, the significance of what she wrote. As time went on her scripts, 
while continuing to be hard to interpret owing to their cryptic allusive 
style, became more coherent: see the numerous examples in the appen¬ 
dices to her paper in Proc. xx. 

After a time she noticed that her scripts were connected with the scripts 
of other automatists and also with communications received through Mrs 
Piper. Two or more of them would at about the same time use very 
similar phrases, or allude to the same topic or idea. This in itself would 
not have been remarkable, and could easily have been explained by chance 
coincidence, if the phrases, ideas or topics involved had been common¬ 
place : but this they often were not. Chance was also ruled out when, as 
often happened, the script itself used some phrase like “ Look for the rest 
elsewhere Moreover, a reference to some topic would often be divided 
between two or more automatists, each of whom would get a fragment 
which was meaningless until combined with the fragments received by the 
others. These connections were called “ cross-correspondences ", the 
first type being classified as “ simple ”, the second as “ complementary 

(e) The Argument from Design. 

It would be impossible in a brief sketch like this to give examples of 
cross-correspondences. A single case, if fully described and discussed, 
might fill this booklet, and however well chosen could do little to illustrate 
the problem as a whole. The student, who may well quail at the prospect 
of reading all that has been published on this subject in Proceedings , will 
find an admirable summary of several cases in Saltmarsh’s Evidence of 
Personal Survival fro?n Cross-correspondences (London, 1938), a small book 
which also contains a judicious summing up of the conclusions to which 
the evidence points. All that space permits here is an outline of the 
arguments for and against regarding the cross-correspondences as evidence 
for survival. The affirmative case, to put it at its simplest, is this : (a) The 
scripts purport to be inspired by Sidgwick, Gurney and Myers ; (b) they 
are characteristic of those men, the quotations from classical literature 
according especially well with Myers’s tastes ; ( c ) it was a recognised 
weakness of the evidence for survival, as it stood at Myers’s death, that it 

34 


could in general be accounted for by telepathy between the sitter and the 
medium ; (d) Myers in Human Personality had foreshadowed new types of 
evidence for survival; ( e ) the cross-correspondences were free from the 
defects of the earlier evidence, as even the simpler instances required 
some third person to plan them, and who more likely than Myers who knew 
the need for evidence of a novel kind, had the requisite literary knowledge 
shown in the scripts, and claimed to be the author, or one of the authors 
of them? 

(/) An Alternative Hypothesis. 

This argument naturally did not escape criticism from several quarters. 
It was Prof. Pigou, perhaps, who made the best case against it: see Proc. 
xxiii. He dismisses chance-coincidence and collusion between the auto¬ 
matists as explanations, and concentrates his attack on the argument that 
there is a design requiring a designer outside the group. He argues, 
(a) that there is evidence from the scripts that they could be influenced by 
telepathy from the living ; (b) that telepathy, to be effective, need not 
require deliberate intention or even consciousness on the part of the agent; 
(c) that therefore simple cross-correspondences might be due to unconscious 
telepathy between the automatists ; (d) that the supposed complementary 
character of other cases might be illusory, the fragmentation of the message 
being accidental and not intentional; (e) that Mrs Verrall, the first in date 
of the group, had all the literary knowledge shown in the scripts, which 
were as characteristic of her as of Myers ; and (/) that all the cross¬ 
correspondences could be attributed to telepathy from her subliminal 
mind. It was a weakness of this argument that no parallel could be 
quoted for unconscious telepathy on such a scale or of a like complexity; 
that in some of the cases the fragmentary distribution seemed to have 
been planned from the start; and that in the only cases where there was 
proof or evidence of telepathy from the living the apparent agent was not 
Mrs Verrall. 

(g) Later Developments. 

(i) The Literary Puzzles. To get, however, a fair view of the bearing of 
the scripts on the problem of survival consideration should be given to 
other features of them besides the cross-correspondences. 

Among these are the “ literary puzzles ’’ (see Proc. xxvii, 221 and xxix, 
197) in which Mrs Willett, a lady wholly ignorant of the classical languages, 
gave communications professing to come from two eminent Greek scholars, 
S. H. Butcher and A. W. Verrall, who had recently died. In both instances 
there were devious approaches, by way of classical allusions outside the 
range of Mrs Willett’s normal knowledge, to a central topic equally 
recondite, the whole showing careful planning, and being couched in 
language which reproduced with remarkable vividness the principal com¬ 
municator’s manner of speech and writing. The second of these cases, 
The Ear of Dionysius , as presented by G. W. Balfour in Proc. xxix, is 
generally accounted one of the most striking pieces of evidence extant in 
favour of survival. It is well summarised by Saltmarsh in his book. 

(ii) Forecasts of Public Events. In 1913, soon after she began automatic 

35 




writing, “ Mrs King ” (Dame Edith Lyttelton) produced a long series o 
scripts containing warnings of the approach of war and industrial unrest, 
promises of an “ Utopian ” era to follow, and exhortations as to the ethical 
temper in which the crisis was to be faced. The style was as allusive and 
full of quotations as the scripts mostly are, but the meaning was un¬ 
mistakable. To these scripts, if they stood by themselves, there could be 
little cause to call attention. Neither the fears nor the hopes expressed 
were unlike what might have been expected from “ Mrs King’s ” know¬ 
ledge of public affairs and her outlook on life. But it is perhaps significant 
that the same symbolism which in 1913 foreshadows the World War of the 
following year can be traced back for many years in the scripts of the other 
automatists—in Mrs Verrall’s case as far back as 1901, the year in which 
her automatic writing began—although the cryptic style prevented the 
automatists from realising, at the time of writing, that they were referring 
to future world events. Moreover there is a curious evenness of tone 
about the allusions to world affairs in the scripts of all the automatists, 
before, during and after the First World War : there is, for example, no 
trace of jubilation at the time of the Armistice of 1918 ; none of the easy 
optimism which expressed itself in the phrase “ the War to end War ” ; no 
suggestion (far from it !) that Utopia is just round the corner. This is not 
intended as an argument that the scripts are infallible, or that we can count 
on the promises fulfilling themselves as certainly and abundantly as the 
warnings have done, but to indicate some of the difficulties of supposing 
that the scripts grouped round this topic are nothing more than the 
product of the subliminal mind of a single automatist, or the subliminal 
minds of the group. 

These forecasts are discussed by Mr Piddington in Proc. xxxiii. The 
Introduction to his paper gives in short compass a most useful explanation 
as to how the scripts, whether of one or several automatists, are linked 
together, and of the methods followed in their interpretation. 

(h) The Scripts considered as a Whole. 

Partly for reasons of space, and partly for reasons of privacy, the greater 
part of the scripts have never been published. Enough has, however, been 
published to enable a comprehensive view to be taken of the problem they 
present. It is, I understand, the view of those who have the completest 
knowledge of all the scripts of all members of the S.P.R. group, that they 
form one continuous whole, with a single pattern running through them, 
from Mrs Verrall’s first scripts of 1901 to those produced by other auto¬ 
matists as late as 1932. This unity is not impaired by the degree of 
prominence given to different parts of the pattern by the different auto¬ 
matists, or to the fading out, as the scripts went on, of elements of tem¬ 
porary importance. My judgment may be biassed by my relationship to 
two of the automatists (Mrs Verrall and my wife), but so far as my wife’s 
scripts from their beginning in 1903 until after 1930 may be taken as a fair 
sample of the whole body of scripts, I fully accept this unitary view. If it 
is correct, the case for attributing the scripts written during Mrs Verrall’s 
life to unconscious telepathy from her subliminal mind, open to objections 


as it was when propounded, seems now wholly untenable. The choice 
then appears to lie between some mind or minds outside the group of 
automatists—and, if so, who has a better claim than the ostensible com¬ 
municators?—and an interpersonal psychic field of the kind recently 
described by Prof. Gardner Murphy in th z Journal of the American S.P.R., 
but possessed of active powers, including ability to design and carry out a 
plan, of a kind hitherto supposed to be the prerogative of personality. 
These alternatives are not perhaps mutually exclusive. 

Mrs Piper 

Until his sudden and unexpected death from a heart attack in 1905, 
Hodgson continued to supervise the sittings given by Mrs Piper, but owing 
to the pressure of his work for the American Branch of the S.P.R. (which 
became a separate society after his death), his records of many of these 
sittings were not left in a state in which they could have been of use to later 
students. All the available records of sittings with Mrs Piper, whether in 
this country or the United States, were subjected to thorough-going 
scrutiny and analysis by Mrs Sidgwick, whose monumental study of the 
psychology of her trance phenomena {Proc. xxviii) deservedly ranks as one 
of the classics of our literature. 

In August 1915 occurred the “ Faunus ” incident, in which Mrs Piper’s 
Hodgson Control gave Oliver Lodge a message from Myers apparently 
predictive of his son Raymond’s death in action in the following month 
{Proc. xxix, m-113). The manner in which the message was given, 
through allusion to an Ode of Horace which cannot have been within Mrs 
Piper’s normal knowledge, was characteristic of Myers, and taken with the 
predictive element makes the incident one of the most remarkable to be 
found in the records of Mrs Piper’s mediumship. It was a worthy close to 
her long connection with our Society. 

Mrs Osborne Leonard 

The “ Faunus ” incident resulted in a short cross-correspondence 
between Mrs Piper, Mrs Leonard and Mr Peters, the two latter mediums 
being referred to by Lodge in Proc. xxix as “ Mrs A ” and “ Mr Z ”. 
Lodge’s striking successes with Mrs Leonard in 1915 were followed by 
Miss Radclyffe-Hall’s and Lady Troubridge’s sittings with her in 1916 
and 1917, which are fully reported in Proc. xxx. As these confirmed the 
impression of Mrs Leonard’s mediumship created by Lodge’s report, the 
Society arranged with her that for some months in 1918 she should place 
her services at the disposal of a committee of the Society, who would select 
sitters. From then on a large number of our leading members were con¬ 
stantly having sittings with her, and reporting them to the Society. The 
very satisfactory results of the Society’s connection with both Mrs Piper 
and Mrs Leonard are probably in large measure due to the Society having 
got in touch with both at an early stage of their mediumship. Most, 
however, of Mrs Leonard’s mediumship fell in the period between the 
two wars and can best be discussed in Part IV. 

37 



Mrs Willett’s Psychology 

Mrs Willett's mediumship also extended well into the period between the 
wars, as she was producing scripts after 1930. As, however, the pheno¬ 
mena discussed in G. W. Balfour’s elaborate study of her ( Proc . xliii) were 
mostly produced before 1919, this is a convenient time to refer to them. 
Her mediumship was not confined to a share in the cross-correspondences, 
or to the production of literary puzzles. She has a great deal to say about 
the process of communication and the internal structure of the ego,[and in 
saying it she shows an interest in psychology and philosophy altogether 
alien to her conscious mind, but highly characteristic of Gurney and 
Myers from whom the communications ostensibly come. 

Her mediumship is in type very different from that of Mrs Piper or 
Mrs Leonard, as she is never, as Balfour puts it, “ off the stage ” herself 
while communications are being received, and she has no Controls apart 
from the Communicators. Her psychological states vary considerably, and 
the communications come through sometimes as speech, sometimes in 
writing and sometimes as highly visualised concepts. Her phenomena, in 
Balfour’s view, confirm the theory of “ polypsychism ”, i,e. a plurality of 
minds associated in a single organism, as distinct from " strata ” or 
“ phases ” of a single mind. This theory he put forward before the 
beginning of Mrs Willett’s mediumship, in his Presidential Address for 
1906 (Proc. xix). 


38 


PART IV 

FROM 1920 TO THE PRESENT DAY 

General Position of the Society 

We have now reached a period when many of the most active workers are, 
happily, still actively at work. It is only with great diffidence that one of 
their present colleagues can attempt to select particular pieces of work for 
summary or appraisal. 

The terrible casualties of the First World War, and the emotions of the 
bereaved, greatly increased public interest in the evidence for survival and 
communication. Through Mrs Piper, “ the S.P.R. Group of Automatists,” 
and, latterly, Mrs Leonard, the Society had received and published 
evidence which, if not accepted by all as conclusive, was by general admis¬ 
sion much in advance of what Gurney, or even Sidgwick and Myers, had 
known. The natural result was a large influx of new members into the 
Society, whose numbers in 1920, the peak year, were 403 full members 
and 902 associates. 

Unfortunately administrative costs had also increased to such an extent 
that the one-guinea subscription paid by each associate did not cover his 
share of expenses. It was accordingly decided in that year to suspend the 
election of new associates. That decision is still in force, except in so far 
as from 1933 on, persons between eighteen and twenty-five years can join 
as Student Associates. The inevitable decline in total membership was 
not at first very marked, but between 1932, the year of the S.P.R. Jubilee, 
and 1941, the effect, first of the financial crisis and then of the Second 
World War, was to reduce our numbers to 576, from which they have 
made a good recovery to over 850, nearly all, of course, full members. 

Kenneth Richmond, who was Resident Secretary during the latter part of 
the War and until his death in December 1945, materially promoted this 
recovery by the encouragement he gave to several active workers among 
the younger members of the Society. 

Finance 

Throughout the period under review the all-round increase in costs, and 
the gradual extinction of a “ leisured class ”, willing to work like slaves 
for nothing, placed limitations on the Society’s activities, which might 
have been crippling but for several generous donations and legacies. 
Among these may be mentioned the gift in 1923 of £510 from an anony¬ 
mous donor, in order to build the seance-room, of £1,000 in 1934 from 
another anonymous donor, to be spent on current research, and Lord 
Rayleigh’s recent donation of £1,000. Mrs Sidgwick in 1936 left a legacy 
of £1,000, which was added to the Research Endowment Fund. In 1929 

39 


a Myers Memorial Fund was formed to endow a lecture in memory of 
F. W. H. Myers, whose daughter, Mrs Blennerhassett, created in 1940 a 
fund of £1,000, since increased by a further gift of £500, to encourage the 
opening of new lines of research. 

The acquisition on lease of 31 Tavistock Square in 1922 has proved a 
very great economy, and the exemption as from 1937 of the Society’s 
various funds from income-tax has immensely improved the position. 
For both these benefits the Society is mainly indebted to Miss Newton’s 
enterprise. 

Mrs Leonard’s Mediumship 

(a) Feda. 

The study of Mrs Leonard’s phenomena, begun during the First World 
War, continued to be one of the principal activities of the S.P.R. for the 
period between the two wars. Her mediumship was in some ways akin 
to that of Mrs Piper : in both cases the medium’s own personality is, 
during the trance in which the communications are received, pushed “ off 
the stage ” by the Control: the content of the communications is often not 
dissimilar. 

But there are important differences. Mrs Leonard has, apart from the 
“ personal Control ” of some of her communicators, only one Control, a 
child named Feda. Mrs Piper had several “ general ” Controls at various 
stages of her mediumship : one of the earliest was a child-Control, Chlorine, 
whose activities, however, did not long endure. 

An admirable character-sketch of Feda is to be found in Lady Trou- 
bridge’s paper (Proc. xxxii), where her connection with some child-like 
“ secondary personalities ”, e.g. the Margaret of the Doris Fischer case, is 
discussed. Feda has won the affection of all Mrs Leonard’s sitters for her 
engaging friendliness, and their respect for her scrupulous honesty. In 
these matters she is in full harmony with Mrs Leonard. She shows, how¬ 
ever, little evidence of liking her medium, whose opinions, tastes, etc. she 
consistently despises. Mr Whately Carington, after applying word- 
association tests to both medium and Control, came to the conclusion that 
Feda was a secondary personality of Mrs Leonard, probably formed 
round a nucleus of repressed material in the medium’s psychology : 
see Proc . xliii, p. 336. 

( b ) Personal Controls. 

When Feda is in control, the messages from the Communicators are 
prefaced by some such phrase as “ he (or she) says ”. But when contact 
has been well established in this way, Feda often leaves the stage clear for 
the Communicator to speak in the first person, without her intervention. 
This is known as “ personal control ”. In personal control the messages 
may be delivered in a voice which is neither the medium’s nor Feda’s 
ordinary voice, and is reported by some sitters to resemble the voice used 
by the Communicator during life. This is known as “ direct voice 
control ”. The voice sometimes appears to be produced by the medium’s 
vocal organs, but other sitters of experience, such as the Rev. C. Drayton 

40 


Thomas (see Proc. xlviii), take the view that the voice proceeds not from 
her mouth but from some other point in space. An experiment, however, 
to verify this by the use of microphones proved negative (Journal xxviii, 
84). 

(c) Book Tests. 

From early in Mrs Leonard’s mediumship there have been numerous 
examples of a type of communication declared by Feda to be designed to 
exclude telepathy from the sitter. These are the book-tests, described by 
Mrs Sidgwick in her study of them in Proc. xxxi as : 

... attempts by Mrs Leonard’s Control Feda to indicate the contents of 
a particular page of a particular book which Mrs Leonard has not seen 
with her bodily eyes, and which is not, at the time of the sitting, known 
to the sitter. ... In the most typical cases the interior of the sitter’s 
residence, and sometimes even the sitter’s name, is unknown to Mrs 
Leonard. The sitter himself is unlikely consciously to remember what 
book occupies the exact place indicated, and even if he has read the 
book, which he often has not, it is practically certain that he does not 
know what is on the specified page. 

If telepathy from the sitter is excluded, the possible explanations of a 
successful book test would appear to be (1) telepathy from some unknown 
person, (2) pure clairvoyance from Feda, (3) communication from “ some 
spirit, in or out of the body ” with clairvoyant powers. (Proc. xxxi, 243) 
The circumstances of the test often rule the first explanation out for all 
practical purposes. 

But before any supernormal explanation is to be sought, the evidence 
must be clear on two points : (i) the particular page and the particular 
book must be identified beyond all reasonable doubt, and (ii) the contents 
of the page must be appropriate in some way that would distinguish them 
from the contents of any other page chosen at random from the same or 
another book. As to (i) a good deal of experience in verifying book tests 
is needed before one fully appreciates the many ambiguities that hinder 
certain identification of the page; where the sitter’s identification is 
influenced by the greater appropriateness of one page than another, the 
possibility of chance coincidence is increased, it may be to an extent 
rendering the test worthless ; (ii) even if there be no ambiguity as to the 
page, there will be a question whether the contents are specially and signifi¬ 
cantly appropriate. A control experiment with sham book tests in which 
the sixty participants looked for three appropriate messages on pre-selected 
pages of ten books chosen at random before the participant knew what the 
message was or on which page it was to be sought, i.e . 1,800 sham tests in 
all, produced a percentage of 1 -89 full successes and 4*72 partial successes. 
The 532 real book tests analysed by Mrs Sidgwick produced 17*2 per 
cent full successes and 36 per cent partial successes, the standard of valua¬ 
tion being approximately the same in both series. Any quantitative analysis 
of such material must necessarily be rough and ready, but if due weight be 
allowed to the remarkable appropriateness of particular instances quotedby 
Mrs Sidgwick, the case for paranormal activity of some kind is very strong. 

4 1 



In order to particularise the form of this activity, sitters asked for book 
tests from shelves of books in languages unknown to the medium but 
known to the communicators, and obtained from such books several 
apparently successful results. But the number of tests of this kind was too 
small to justify a confident rejection of chance coincidence. ^ Somewhat 
similar problems are raised by the “ picture-tests ” and “ newspaper 
tests ”, a later development of Mrs Leonard’s mediumship, of which the 
Rev. C. Drayton Thomas and the Rev. W. S. Irving have reported several 
curious instances. 

(d) Proxy Sittings. 

Book tests were Feda’s own idea, but another method of attempting to 
exclude telepathy has been elaborated by some of Mrs Leonard’s sitters, par¬ 
ticularly Miss Nea Walker, and the Rev. C. Drayton Thomas. As described 
in Miss Walker’s book, Through a Stranger's Hands (London, 1935)’ P ro “ 
cedure is as follows. Miss Walker receives from a stranger who wishes to 
get in touch with a friend “ on the other side ” a few particulars, e.g. the 
stranger’s name and address and relation to the friend, and the friend s 
age and date of death. These she writes down, and has filed for evidential 
purposes before the sitting. She also reads them aloud, not of course in the 
medium’s presence, as a “ request ” to her own group of Communicators 
to help the stranger to get into touch with the friend at a future sitting 
with Mrs Leonard. Miss Walker takes the sitting as proxy, with no more 
knowledge of the facts than is contained in the filed statement. If, there¬ 
fore, correct information is given as to facts not mentioned in the filed 
statement, it cannot be telepathy from Miss Walker’s conscious mind. 
Can it be telepathy from the stranger who has never been in direct contact 
with the medium, or must yet another explanation be sought? The answer 
to this depends on inferences as to the scope of telepathy to be drawn 
from other phenomena, spontaneous and experimental. 

In addition to the proxy cases in Miss Walker’s book, two cases fully 
reported by the Rev. C. Drayton Thomas in Proc. xliii and xlv deserve 
study. 

Mrs Warren Elliott 

In 1926 Mrs Warren Elliott agreed to give three sittings a week for a 
year to sitters chosen by the Society, which had the general control of the 
sittings. There were two types of sittings : (a) “ Sitter present ” (S.P.), 
the sitter being nearly always anonymous, and a verbatim shorthand record 
being obtained of the sitting ; in general type these sittings presented no 
novelty ; ( b ) “ Absent Sitter ” (A.S.) sittings, for which, to quote Salt- 
marsh’s report (Proc. xxxix at p. 54) : 

A number of persons were invited to send to the Society relics associated 
with a deceased relative or friend, and precautions were taken to prevent 
any normal knowledge from reaching anyone concerned in the sitting, 
either the medium, the note-taker or anyone else. 

Saltmarsh scored the results by an ingenious method, and checked his 

42 


findings by having records of sittings annotated by non-sitters as if they 
had been their own sittings. He came to the conclusion that chance 
would not explain the degree of success obtained. As to an alternative 
theory, survivalist or other, he left the question open. 

Other “ Mental ” Mediums 

Throughout this period the officers and members of the Society were 
diligent in investigating mediums of the “ mental ” or, as it is some¬ 
times inaccurately called, “ clairvoyant ” type. Among those investigated 
may be mentioned Mrs Blanche Cooper, Mrs Eileen Garrett, who provided 
much valuable material for Mr Whately Carington’s quantitative analysis 
(see below), and Mrs E. Thomson, who gave sittings to the Society 
during the War. Several interesting cases connected with the mediumship 
of Miss Geraldine Cummins have been printed by the S.P.R. 

The Quantitative Study of Trance Personalities 

There is a procedure, familiar to experimental psychologists, known as 
“ the word-association test ” in which a list of “ stimulus ” words is read 
to a subject, and his reactions, e.g. the delay in replying with the first word 
in his mind, are noted. From the reactions, which can be measured in 
various ways, it is possible to make inferences as to his emotional state. 
As emotional states depend on experience, there is some reason to suppose 
that every person has a reaction pattern of his own, “ spiritual finger¬ 
prints ” so to speak, which can be used as a test of identity. 

In 1921 Mr Whately Carington (Mr Whately Smith, as he then was) 
suggested (Proc. xxxi, 401) that this test might be used to obtain evidence 
as to whether (1) the general Controls of mediums; and (2) the “ Com¬ 
municators ” were secondary personalities of the medium, as had been 
often suggested, or independent entities as they themselves claimed to be. 

In 1933 Carington started a series of experiments in which he ob¬ 
tained the cooperation of several mediums including Mrs Leonard, Mrs 
Garrett and Rudi Schneider (as to whom see p. 44). The test was 
applied to the mediums, their “ general ” Controls, and also to two Com¬ 
municators each of whom claimed to act as personal Control of two 
mediums, Mrs Leonard and Mrs Sharplin. The results were submitted 
to a statistical analysis too complex and technical to summarise here (see 
Proc. xlii, xliii, xliv). Carington’s conclusions were that the “ general ” 
Controls were shown by the “ countersimilarity ”, revealed in the analysis 
to be secondary personalities of their mediums “ probably formed round 
nuclei of repressed material ”, but that there was some evidence, not 
however conclusive, for the autonomous nature of the Communicators. 
“ Countersimilarity ” (see Proc. xliii, 333) means negative correlation 
between two persons, and implies the same sort of connection between 
them as between “ the two ends of a see-saw ” which “ are not the less 
parts of a single mechanism ”. The word-association test seems to have 
no relevance to such Communicators as do not claim to control the 
medium’s body. 


43 


Physical Phenomena 

(a) General, 

At no time during its history has the Society devoted so much time and 
money to the investigation of physical phenomena as in the period between 
the two wars. These phenomena, as reported, are of very many different 
types. They defy classification, as they include apparent contraventions 
of many of the generally recognised laws governing the physical universe. 
Two kinds of phenomenon attracted particular attention during this 
period, telekinesis , defined in Human Personality as “ alleged supernormal 
movements of objects, not due to any known force ”, and the alleged 
supernormal production from the medium’s body of a substance known as 
ectoplasm , which occasionally takes the form of some living organism or a 
part of it, such as a head, hand or foot. 

(b) Eva C, 

This medium, of whom mention has already been made on p. 30, may 
be taken as a type of the materialising medium. She gave a series of forty 
sittings at the Society's rooms (then at 20 Hanover Square) between April 
and June 1920. The investigating committee was a strong one, including 
Feilding, Baggally, and, after the ninth sitting, Dr Dingwall. The follow¬ 
ing passage ( Proc . xxxii, p. 332) is taken from the “ General Conclusions ” 
at the end of the committee’s detailed report. 

In recording our general impressions we much regret that we are un¬ 
able to come definitely either to positive or to negative conclusions. 
The phenomena were too scanty and the sittings too few for us to be 
able to determine with any degree of accuracy the real nature of the 
phenomena. Taken by themselves these were remarkably unimpressive. 
On no single occasion did we observe the larger materialisations as 
described by Dr von Schrenck-Notzing. ... If we had not been 
acquainted with the work of previous investigators we might have felt 
inclined to draw negative conclusions from our own observations. It is, 
however, impossible to ignore the contributions of Mme Bisson, Dr von 
Schrenck-Notzing and Dr Geley. 

(c) The Schneider Brothers, 

The most famous telekinetic mediums of this period were Willy and 
Rudi Schneider. Both gave sittings under the auspices of the S.P.R., and 
produced apparently genuine phenomena, which were not however as 
striking as those they had produced elsewhere. The sittings with Willy 
Schneider are reported in Proc, xxxvi, 1-33. 

With Rudi several series of sittings were held, which were attended by 
many leading members of the Society, including Lord Charles Hope, Mr 
Oliver Gatty, Mr C. V. C. Herbert and Mr Besterman. For reports on 
these sittings, see Proc, xl, 428, xli, 255-330, xlii, 251, 310, and Journal xxix, 
222-230. 

In addition to telekinesis of the usual kind, Rudi was reported by Dr 
Osty in the Revue Mttapsychique , for 1931 and 1932, to produce, at a 
distance from his person, a substance invisible , which had the power of 

44 


absorbing infra-red rays, but did not appear on the negatives of cameras 
taking a simultaneous flash-light photograph of the region occupied by it: 
see Mr Besterman’s account in Proc, xl, p. 433. 

Of the value of infra-red technique, Lord Rayleigh writes (Proc, xli, 88): 

This method, using a photo-electric cell as indicator, has the great 
advantage of giving an immediate indication of what is happening, as 
well as allowing a graphic record to be made at the same time. The 
attempts made so far to combine this with ordinary photography have 
given the valuable negative result of showing that the medium was doing 
nothing suspicious, but have not shown anything positive. 

He suggested a method of using the infra-red rays to obtain a silhouette 
photograph of the substance , and supplied apparatus designed for this 
purpose to the sittings reported in Proc, xli. Unfortunately no positive 
results were obtained by this method. 

There has been considerable discussion as to the desirability of mechani¬ 
cal control in investigating physical phenomena. The general opinion of 
S.P.R. investigators has been that, while apparatus may be a valuable aid 
to obtaining a self-registering record of the phenomena, it should be used 
as auxiliary to, and not in substitution for manual control. There is a 
danger lest investigators relying on mechanical control should relax their 
vigilance. So far as the object is to eliminate possible collusion by one of 
the investigators, it is more satisfactory to choose investigators who are 
above suspicion. Apparatus is only fraud-proof if the person in charge of it 
is fraud-proof too. 

(d) The most versatile medium of this period was the American 
“ Margery ” (Mrs Crandon), whose career is described and discussed at 
length in the publications of the American S.P.R. and Boston S.P.R. 
Dr Dingwall’s very critical report on her ectoplasmic phenomena in Proc . 
xxxvi (pp. 79-155) is an important] contribution to the literature of her 
mediumship. In 1929 she gave a demonstration in the Society’s seance 
room at which ostensibly supernormal thumbprints were produced. 
These were regarded as suspicious at the time, and one of them was later 
proved to be spurious (Proc,. xxxix, 358-368, and xliii, 15-23). 

(e) The Status of Physical Phenomena, 

EvaC., Willy and Rudi Schneider and Margery may be considered the 
leading mediums in their respective lines, and no purpose would be served by 
mentioning the numerous other physical mediums on whom the Society 
received reports. Many as were the sittings held under S.P.R. auspices, 
they were in all cases mere episodes in the mediums’ careers, and the 
phenomena observed at the S.P.R. sittings were few and on a small scale 
compared with those reported by other investigators. The sentence 
quoted from the report on Eva C. might fairly be applied to all the physical 
mediums investigated by the S.P.R. “ If we had not been acquainted with 
the work of previous investigators, we might have felt inclined to draw 
negative conclusions from our own investigations.” 

45 



The student of physical phenomena, who is not content to suspend his 
judgment as to the genuineness of telekinesis and materialisation, must 
accordingly read the full history of the mediums of this period in the 
publications of other bodies, but he should first remind himself of the 
points to be borne in mind by studying Walter Prince’s comments on the 
subject in his Presidential Address (Proc. xxxix, 289-294). He will find 
useful signposts to the voluminous literature of physical mediumship in 
the reviews and Notes on Periodicals in our Journal. From one such Note 
the following paragraph is taken verbatim , as indicative of what he is likely 
to meet when he comes to the original sources : 

“ In the same issue Dr T. discusses the exposure of the medium K., and 
also gives a sketch of the accusations levelled against S. by Dr P. and 
others. The issue concludes w r ith a review of the H.—C. alleged 
exposure of M., in which the new point is brought out that the supposed 
private interview between C. and M. was overheard by a third person, 
and that this third person’s affidavit disposes of C.’s story of M.’s 
alleged confession and of C.’s duplicity.” 

In transcribing this Note I have substituted initials for names, as the 
identity of the particular mediums and investigators embroiled is irrelevant. 
Fortunately hi motus animorum atque haec certamina tanta are no part of 
the history of our Society. 

(/) Spirit Photography. 

Ini 922 Mr Harry Price conducted an experiment with Mr William Hope, 
of “ the Crewe Circle ”, the best-known “ spirit photographer ” of this 
period. His report that another plate, on which, when developed, the 
photograph of a “ spirit form ” was to be seen, had been substituted for a 
specially marked plate of his own, gave rise to a lively controversy ( Journal 
xx, xxi). A fuller report on “ spirit photography ” by Mr F. Barlow and 
Major W. Rampling-Rose in Proc. xli is most instructive as to different 
methods of fraud used at various times and how they can be detected. 

(g) Psychokinesis (PK ). 

In the Journal for Parapsychology, published at Duke University, U.S.A., 
Dr Rhine in 1943 reported on experiments conducted by him in dice 
throwing, in which he claimed that he had been able to make dice fall as he 
wished, by sheer willing, without muscular effort directed to that end. 
To this faculty he gave the name “ psychokinesis ”, usually abbreviated to 
PK. Very careful experiments in this country, made on the same lines, 
have so far mostly failed to produce positive results. 

The Society’s Jubilee 

In 1932 the Society completed fifty years of activity. Mrs Sidgwick 
was elected President of Honour, a new distinction in the Society, and 
Oliver Lodge was elected President for the year. It is needless to remind 
the reader how much the Society owed to both of them for the success of 
its work, and even for its continued existence. 

46 


In his Presidential Address (Proc. xli, p. 71) Lodge sums up the change 
that had taken place during the preceding fifty years in the attitude of 
scientists to psychical research, thus : 

At the time of founding the Society, the scientific world was actively 
hostile. I do not think it is equally hostile now. A few individuals 
recently were actively hostile, but most of them have now proceeded to a 
stage where presumably trustworthy information is more accessible, and 
where they probably find that they were mistaken. 

With striking prescience he pointed to the apparent transcendence of time 
relations in psychical phenomena as a problem that would call for more 
active investigation. Research into it has, of course, been one of the main 
preoccupations of the S.P.R. ever since. 

Mrs Sidgwick’s historical survey of the Society’s work has already (p. 13) 
been mentioned. Owing to her advanced age, her paper was read for her 
by her brother, G. W. Balfour. Towards the end of it (Proc. xli, 25, 26) 
she writes : 

My friends tell me that I ought not to end my tale without saying 
what impression this retrospective survey of the Society’s fifty years of 
life and work—work in which I have shared—produces on my own mind. 
I may say at once without hesitation that I feel now as I felt when I first 
engaged in it, before the foundation of the Society, that ours is some of 
the most important work in which we can engage for the extension of 
knowledge and the benefit of mankind. ... If I may be allowed to 
prophesy, I should say that with patience and perseverance—and little 
good work has been done in the world without these two qualities—we 
shall add to the evidence in at least these three departments, namely 
telepathy between the living (established in my opinion as a fact, though 
there is still much to learn about it), communication with the dead, and 
clairvoyance, and probably in others. 

After reading the paper Balfour added : 

Some of you may have felt that the note of caution and reserve has pos¬ 
sibly been over-emphasised in Mrs Sidgwick’s paper. If so, they may 
be glad to hear what I am about to say. Conclusive proof of survival is 
notoriously difficult to obtain. But the evidence may be such as to 
produce belief , even though it fall short of conclusive proof. I have 
Mrs Sidgwick’s assurance—an assurance which I am permitted to con¬ 
vey to the meeting—that, upon the evidence before her, she herself is a 
firm believer both in survival and in the reality of communication be¬ 
tween the living and the dead. 

The B.B.C. Talks of 1934 

By arrangement with the British Broadcasting Corporation several lead¬ 
ing members of the Society gave short talks in 1934 on various aspects of 
the Society’s work. The speakers invited their hearers to send in accounts 
of their own psychic experiences. The number of cases sent in was very 
considerable. Some were far from recent, but sufficient recent cases were 

47 



reported to make it clear that “ spontaneous ” cases were about as plentiful 
as in the days of Phantasms or the Census (see pp. 16-19). It had for 
some years been noticed that fewer spontaneous cases were reported to 
the S.P.R. The cause of the decline seems to be simply that apparitions 
are no longer “ news ” among that section of the population with which 
the S.P.R. is in closest touch. 

Paranormal Cognition 

(a) Method of Investigation. 

In discussing a line of enquiry which has become of increasing impor¬ 
tance during the last twenty years, it is necessary to use some term which 
will include such faculties as telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition, 
since in many investigations the problem is less to decide whether some 
supernormal faculty is at work than to determine to which of several 
possible faculties the effects are to be ascribed. “ Paranormal cognition ” 
is open to the objection that the faculty may manifest itself in some form 
that cannot properly be considered as knowledge. “ Paragnosis ” is open 
to the same objection. “ Extra-sensory Perception ” (E.S.P.), a phrase 
invented by psychical researchers in America, may mislead by suggesting 
too close a connection with perception through the usual channels of sense. 
u Psi ” ( W ), suggested by Dr Thouless, has the double merit of being non¬ 
committal and brief. But as “ paranormal cognition ” was first in the 
field and is reasonably accurate, I shall use it here. 

In several branches of the Society’s work the emphasis has of late years 
been on quantitative experiment. The quantitative study of trance- 
personalities by Whately Carington, already described (p. 43), is an 
example. Quantitative experiment, where the conditions are favourable to 
it, has considerable advantages over both non-experimental research 
dependent on observation, and experiments that cannot be statistically 
assessed. It is possible by this method rigidly to eliminate chance, and by 
varying the technique to differentiate exactly between one faculty and 
another. 

Possible, that is, if the subject matter is of a kind to which this method 
is applicable. Much, however, of what has always been considered the 
proper subject matter of psychical research has so far defied the efforts of 
investigators on both sides of the Atlantic to subject it to quantitative 
treatment. But this refractory material can, if properly handled, be made 
to yield much valuable information, so that the psychical researcher is the 
fortunate possessor of two strings to his bow. 

A very large share in recent investigations of paranormal cognition has 
been played by research workers in America. For a comprehensive survey 
of the work done the student must consult, in addition to our Proceedings , 
the Journal of Parapsychology published at Duke University, the publica¬ 
tions of the American S.P.R., and the books of Dr Rhine. The literature 
is highly technical and all that can be attempted in this sketch is to mention 
briefly a few outstanding pieces of work done in our own Society. 

Experiments have been conducted (a) with large groups of percipients, 
who may be considered representative samples either of the whole popula- 

48 


tion, or of a specific section of the population, e.g. university students, and 
( h ) with individual percipients, who have shown signs of possessing para¬ 
normal faculties in a marked degree. 

The former type, sometimes called “ mass experiments ”, were favoured 
by Whately Carington, as providing the only possible basis for repeatable 
experiments of the kind that physical science commonly uses, since any 
future experimenters should have available equivalent material from which, 
if the first experimenter’s methods were sound, equivalent results could be 
obtained. But against the advantage of eliminating “ the human element ” 
in both experimenter and percipient must be set the drawback that with a 
faculty so apparently rare as that of supernormal cognition the positive 
results to be expected will, at the best, be small and only capable of detec¬ 
tion by the most skilful analysis. 

If individual percipients can be found in whom this faculty is highly 
developed, more striking results may be expected, and, if the experiment 
has been sound, these will in due season, through other experimenters 
obtaining similar results with other subjects, acquire an evidential value 
equal to that attaching to the results of a repeatable experiment which has 
been successfully repeated. Much of the spontaneous and mediumistic 
material collected by the Society in its long history already has this status 

( b) The B.B.C. Experiment. 

In 1927, by arrangement with the B.B.C., five objects known only to 
Dr Woolley, then Hon. Research Officer, were exhibited at the Society’s 
rooms, and simultaneously Lodge at 2 Savoy Hill, which was then the 
headquarters of the B.B.C., invited listeners to record their impressions. 
Over 24,000 answers were sent to the S.P.R. and analysed. No clear 
evidence of any supernormal faculty was discovered, although a number of 
those who took part gave some slight indication of telepathic power. But 
much useful information was obtained as to individual preferences, such as 
“ number habits ”, a factor which may complicate the assessment of chance 
probability. It was, for instance, found that when a playing-card was the 
target, more than three times as many guesses were received for 5 in all 
suits as for 6, the target being neither 5 nor 6. {Proc. xxxviii, 1.) 

(c) Dr SoaVs Experiments , 1927-1929. 

Over 100 of the most promising percipients in the B.B.C. experiment 
took part in 1927/1928 in some experiments “ in supernormal perception 
at a distance ” organised by Dr Soal, and in 1928/1929 as the result of a 
wireless appeal over 500 percipients took part in a further series conducted 
by him. In the latter the material used was capable of statistical analysis. 
The results of both series were analysed by Dr Soal in a remarkably 
thorough way, but proved entirely negative. {Proc. xl, 165-362.) 

(d) Clairvoyance. 

For most of the Society’s existence evidence for clairvoyance, in the 
sense of paranormal cognition without the intervention of another mind, 
was much more scanty than evidence for telepathy. Interest in clair¬ 
voyance as a subject for experiment was revived by Miss Jephson’s reports 

49 



in Proc. xxxviii, xxxix (Mr Besterman and Dr Soal collaborating), and 
xli. Though the results were negative, new methods of research were 
suggested. 

Mr Tyrrell had in 1921 conducted some experiments with a friend, Miss 
Johnson, and obtained positive results with shuffled packs of cards. Fur¬ 
ther experiments conducted by him from 1934 on with Miss Johnson and 
others emphasised the need for a technique “ which would differentiate 
between telepathy and clairvoyance and would select the order of events 
[i.e. i targets ’] mechanically ”. To this end he constructed an electrically 
operated apparatus, fully described and illustrated in Proc . xliv. This was 
one of several attempts to solve the problem of the random selection of 
targets, necessary to meet the case of agent and percipient having similar 

number habits ”, and thereby producing correspondences between 
guesses and targets that could not be explained by chance, but might be 
mistakenly attributed to the working of some supernormal faculty. The 
search for a perfect technique of random selection still continues. 

(e) Precognition and “ Temporal Displacement ”. 

In no branch of psychical research has the quantitative method more 
fully justified itself than in the establishment of precognition, by isolating 
it from undifferentiated paranormal cognition. Before the experiments 
shortly to be described, the evidence for paranormal cognition of future 
events was slight. Saltmarsh had in Proc. xlii analysed and classified a con¬ 
siderable number of cases reported in S.P.R. Proceedings and Journal, and 
Dame Edith Lyttelton had collected in a book, Some Cases of Prediction , 
some evidence reported to her after her B.B.C. talk in 1934. There were 
also several predictions in communications received through mediums, 
such as the Faunus incident and the Gordon Davis case {Proc. xxxv, 
560-5,89), and also in the scripts of the S.P.R. group of automatists (see 
PP- 35> 36 above). But somehow or other all this material had not 
created a profound impression either on psychical researchers or the 
general public. Mr Dunne’s account of his own dream experiences (An 
Experiment with Time) had suggested a line of investigation. 

(/) Mr TyrrelVs Experiments. 

In a series of tests with the “ randomising ” apparatus mentioned above 
the percipient attempted to guess the target about half a second before 
it was selected. The results, which were automatically recorded, were 
positive. (Proc. xliv, 149). 

(g) Mr Carington 9 s “ Repeatable ” Experiment. 

It was not, however, with experiments specifically designed to test 
precognition that Mr Carington made the discovery described in his 
report in Proc. xlvi. Mr Carington’s procedure was to select, by random 
methods, an object capable of being drawn ; to have a drawing made by 
Mrs Carington, and to expose it in a room in their flat at Cambridge on 
each of ten successive nights from 7 p.m. till 9.30 a.m. The selection and 
the drawing were made each night just before the time when the experi¬ 
ment began. The percipients included groups in Cambridge, Edinburgh, 

So 


Holland and America, and no member of them ever entered the flat be¬ 
tween the selection of the target and the close of that experiment the 
following morning : in one of the series of experiments as many as 183 
percipients took part. 

“ Free ” material, such as drawings of common objects, has the advan¬ 
tage of having more interesting associations for agent and percipient than a 
choice between a few geometrical diagrams. If, therefore, as there is some 
reason to believe, interest is favourable to the exercise of paranormal 
faculties, the use of “ free ” material gives those faculties more scope to 
manifest themselves. But the exact assessment of results obtained with 
“ free ” material is a well-known problem. Carington fully discusses the 
technical difficulties, and the best way of overcoming them. 

All that need be said here is that with methods of assessments made as 
objective as possible, and under conditions rigorously excluding sensory 
clues, he obtained results indicating the presence of a faculty of paranormal 
cognition. He claimed that, as the positive results did not arise from the 
possession of exceptional powers by individuals, but from the wide diffusion 
of paranormal faculties so slight as only to be capable of detection by the 
most exact analysis, the experiment was a repeatable experiment, in the 
scientific sense. The objective assessment of large numbers of guesses at 
“ free ” targets being admittedly laborious to any investigator starting de 
novo , he worked out a “ Catalogue of Frequencies ” to lighten the labours 
of successors : this was printed during the War by the American S.P.R. in 
Vol. xxiv of its Proceedings. 

(h) Displacement. 

Mr Carington’s analysis of his results did not show any statistically 
significant proportion of “ hits ” on the targets exposed on the night 
when the guess was made. But on comparison of one set of ten tests 
with another set made after an interval it was found that, if the order of 
the drawings within each set were ignored, the drawings of the second set 
resembled the originals of that set much more closely than they resembled 
the originals of the first set, and vice versa. Carington regarded this as 
showing that within each set of ten significant scores were obtained both 
on targets already exposed and on targets not yet exposed, but 
exposed on some subsequent evening. The former might have been due 
to delayed emergence of a telepathic impression : the latter could hardly 
be considered other than precognitive, in view of the fact that the “ hit ” 
was made before the target had been selected. (It is, however, open to 
question whether temporal displacement can properly be called “ precogni¬ 
tive ” when a present target is aimed at but a future target is hit.) 

(i) Dr SoaVs Experiments with Mrs S. and Mr B. S. 

Dr Soal was at this time conducting experiments (see Proc. xlvi) with 
two percipients who had already shown signs of possessing paranormal 
faculties in a marked degree. He used packs of “ Zener ” cards arranged 
in random sequence, each card bearing one of five simple designs. At Mr 
Carington’s suggestion, he carefully scanned his results for displacement, 
and found clear proof of it. Precognition was accordingly confirmed by an 

5i 




experiment of an entirely different type to Mr Carington’s as Dr Soal was 
experimenting with individual subjects, and not groups, and using, not 
“ free ” material, but material amenable to strict quantitative analysis. 

(/) The Soal-Goldney Experiments. 

A still more elaborate examination of Mr B. S. was made by Dr Soal and 
Mrs Goldney in 1941-1943. The experiments were notable both for the 
thorough measures adopted to make them as watertight as possible, and 
for the very striking positive results. Once again the material for trans¬ 
mission consisted of cards with a limited number (5) of designs, the 
target card being selected by random methods, sometimes with pre¬ 
selected packs, and, later, with the aid of coloured counters drawn from a 
bag or bowl while the experiment was in progress. Where the experiment 
was designed on the lines of an experiment in telepathy, significant dis¬ 
placement effects were noted. Where, however, the conditions excluded 
telepathy, so as to make the test one for “ pure ” clairvoyance, the results 
were completely negative. The authors accordingly described their work 
as ‘‘Experiments in Precognitive Telepathy ”. The report of these 
experiments, which was published in Proc . xlvii, was immediately recog¬ 
nised as a contribution of the highest importance to the study of para¬ 
normal cognition. 

( k ) Psychometry. 

It has not infrequently been reported by sitters that communications 
appear to be stimulated by the production at the sitting of some article 
associated with the communicator. But it has also been claimed that some 
mediums have the faculty of diagnosing the previous associations of an 
article, even when no attempt at communication is being made : this is 
what is meant by “ psychometry ”. The paucity of entries under this 
heading in the Index of S.P.R. Proceedings and Journal from the foundation 
of the Society to 1913 shows how little evidence of psychometry was 
obtained in the first thirty years of the Society’s history. But between 
1919 and 1921 two members of the S.P.R., Dr Pagenstecher and Walter 
Prince, obtained very striking results with a Mexican lady, Senora Maria 
Reyes de Z, reported in Vols. xv and xvi of the American S.P.R. More 
recently, between 1934 and 1937, Dr Hettinger carried out more than six 
hundred “ tests ” with two mediums. Each of the “ tests ” consisted in 
the presentation of an article, nearly always enclosed in a sealed envelope : 
the medium did not know with whom the articles were associated. The 
results, described and analysed in his book, The Ultra-Perceptive Faculty , 
seem to Dr Hettinger to indicate a faculty allied to telepathy. 

(/) Theory. 

Complaints were at one time brought against the Society that it accumu¬ 
lated and analysed masses of material without affording readers of Proceed¬ 
ings any assistance as to the general direction in which the evidence pointed. 
There never was much justification in fact for this criticism, as a perusal of 
any two or three consecutive volumes of Proceedings will show. As 
regards paranormal cognition the student has the benefit of theoretical 

52 


discussion from several angles. Among the many papers in Proceedings 
which he may advantageously consult the following may be mentioned : 
the Presidential Addresses by Prof. Broad and Dr Thouless (. Proc., Vols. xliii 
and xlvii) and Dr Rhine’s Telepathy and Clairvoyance Reconsidered , with 
comments by several members of the S.P.R. (Proc. xlviii). He should also 
read Whately Carington’s Telepathy (Methuen, 1945) and the S.P.R 
pamphlet by Mrs Pleywood and Dr Soal. 


“ The Debate continues.” No member, however recently elected, need 
fear that the Society will run short in his lifetime of subjects for investiga¬ 
tion, or need in consequence curb his own activities in research. 

It was not to be expected that a mere sixty-five years of organised re¬ 
search should settle problems which had baffled the speculations of man¬ 
kind for many centuries. Our founders expressed the hope that “ the 
spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry ” would not fail when applied 
to the problems that faced them, even as it “ had already solved so many 
problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated ” (Proc. i, 4). 
The signal advance made during the Society’s lifetime goes far to justify 
our founders’ hopes and encourages us confidently to pursue the task which 
they so brilliantly began. 




S 3 


[■See overleaf] 




How to promote Psychical Research 

From all its members the S.P.R. confidently expects, and from non- 
members who may read this sketch it would welcome, active co-operation 
in its researches. To make this effective, the officers of the Society arc 
always willing to give advice to persons consulting them who have ex¬ 
periences which seem to them psychic or paranormal, or are having sittings 
with mediums or wish to experiment in telepathy or clairvoyance or pre¬ 
cognition, as to how they can make their records of evidential value. 

The Society has recently printed a leaflet Hints on Sitting with Mediums 
for the benefit of members who are prospective sitters ; copies are available 
on application by non-members. 

Some Notes on how to experiment in extra-sensory perception, pre¬ 
pared by Dr Soal, a most experienced investigator, can be lent to persons 
proposing to pursue this form of research. 

Further well-authenticated reports of any kind of spontaneous experience 
suggesting some connection between the experience ( e.g . an apparition of 
a recognised person) and an event not normally known to the percipient 
(e.g. the death of that person) would be particularly welcome. The cases 
should be first hand. The experience should be committed to writing at 
once, dated, signed by the percipient and, if possible, countersigned by 
someone else. The corresponding event should be verified with all 
particulars as to date etc. The report should be sent to the Secretary of 
the Society, 31 Tavistock Square, London, W.C. 1. If the case is printed 
in the S.P.R. Journal privacy can, if desired, be maintained by the sub¬ 
stitution of pseudonyms for the real names. 


How to become a member 

All persons interested in advancing the knowledge of human personality, 
and the exploration of faculties at present imperfectly understood but 
appearing to be of far-reaching importance, are advised to apply to the 
Secretary at the above address for particulars of the privileges of Member¬ 
ship. The annual subscription is two guineas, which entitles members to 
receive free all publications of the S.P.R., to attend all its meetings and 
to use its Library. 


54 


S.P.R. PUBLICATIONS 

Published by the Society 

proceedings of the society for psychical research. 

Published irregularly in parts, from Is. 6d. to 18s. per part. A list will be sent 
on application. 

THE SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH by G. N. M. Tyrrell. What 
it is, what it has accomplished, and why its work is important. 1945. 6d. 

TELEPATHY AND ALLIED PHENOMENA by Rosalind Heywood, with a 
section on Quantitative Experiments by S. G. Soal. 1948. Is. Od. 

THE SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH : AN OUTLINE OF ITS 
HISTORY by W. H. Salter. 1948. 2s. Od. 

THE FREDERIC W. H. MYERS MEMORIAL LECTURES 
CONVICTION OF SURVIVAL by Sir Oliver Lodge. 1929. (Out of print.) 

BENEATH THE THRESHOLD by Dr T. W. Mitchell. 1931. Is. Od. 

SUPERNORMAL ASPECTS OF ENERGY AND MATTER by Dr Eugfene 
Osty. 1933. 2s0d - 

THE MEANING OF ‘ SURVIVAL ' by W. Whately Carington. 1935. Is. Od. 

SUPERNORMAL FACULTY AND THE STRUCTURE OF THE MIND 
byC. A. Mace. 1937. ,s - 

PSYCHICAL RESEARCH AND THEOLOGY by the Very Rev. W. R. 
Matthews, D.D. 1940. 2s. Od. 

APPARITIONS by G. N. M. Tyrrell. 1942. 3s. 6d. 

PSYCHICAL RESEARCH: WHERE DO WE STAND? by Mrs W. H. 

Salter. 1945. ,s - 0d - 

THE EXPERIMENTAL SITUATION IN PSYCHICAL RESEARCH by 
S. G. Soal, D.Sc. 1947. 2s. Od. 

Published by G. Bell & Sons 

EVIDENCE OF PERSONAL SURVIVAL FROM CROSS-CORRESPOND¬ 
ENCES by H. F. Saltmarsh. 1938. (Out of print.) 

EVIDENCE OF PURPOSE by Z. Richmond. 1938. ( Out of print.) 

HYPNOSIS : ITS MEANING AND PRACTICE by E. Cuddon. 1938. 3s. 6d. 

FOREKNOWLEDGE by H. F. Saltmarsh. 1938. 

GHOSTS AND APPARITIONS by W. H. Salter. 1938. 

EVIDENCE OF IDENTITY by K. Richmond. 1938. 

Publications in print may be obtained 
through booksellers or from 

THE SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH 
31 Tavistock Square, London, W.C. 1 


(Out of print.) 
(Out of print.) 
3s. 6d.